Ousted Tata Sons chairman Cyrus P Mistry on Thursday hit out at “shameful” case of top executives of AirAsia being booked for allegedly paying bribes to influence policy, saying there was a decline in governance standards at the group’s airline venture. Mistry slammed AirAsia director R Venkataraman, who has along with chief executive Tony Fernandes been named by the CBI in the FIR, for using his name to cloak his alleged misadventures, and said individuals with “questionable motives” are bringing disrepute to the Tata brand.
Yesterday, Venkataraman had alluded to his name figuring in the FIR due to “baseless allegations made by Cyrus P Mistry and the Shapoor Pallonji Group against Tata Trusts Trustees (me included) and Tata Sons in his ‘revenge’ legal actions”. Mistry, who was ousted as Tata Sons chairman in end-2016, denied Venkataraman’s allegations as “malicious and defamatory”.
“The Board of Tata Sons and the Tata Trustees need to concern themselves over the decline in governance standards at AirAsia India that this shameful case reveals. The Group and its employees deserve better,” he said in a statement. Tata brand, he said, has always stood for the highest levels of ethics and governance.
“It is therefore deeply disturbing that a few individuals with alleged questionable motives are today bringing disrepute to the Tata Brand,” he said, adding that Venkataraman was intimately involved in the affairs of AirAsia India right from its inception. Mistry said Venkataraman had many roles including that of Executive Assistant to Ratan Tata at the time of the formation of the company, Tata Sons’s nominee on the board, as well as that of a shareholder with a 1.5 per cent stake in the company.
“Therefore, his weak excuse that he was only a non-executive director without any responsibility is totally without any merit,” he said. Stating that Shapoorji Pallonji Group has had a relationship running over 50 years with the House of Tata, he said, “R Venkataraman, as the Managing Trustee of the Tata Trusts, should know better than to drag the name of such a remarkable institution into an investigation by the CBI over his alleged personal integrity and alleged corrupt business dealings.”
CBI has alleged that the airline’s executives bribed officials through middlemen to sway government decisions including obtaining a flying permit for domestic arm and approvals to operate internationally. “This ridiculous attempt to question the independence of the CBI and to cloak his alleged misadventures by using my name is treated with the contempt it deserves. His alleged actions, which are today under investigation, raise grave public concerns over his credibility and ability to be the custodian of India’s largest public charitable trust,” Mistry said. “Needless to state, I deny all the malicious and defamatory allegations against me.”
Venkataramanan had on Wednesday said he had been “wrongly” named as an accused since he was a non-executive director of AirAsia India Ltd and had little or no role to play. “It is commonly known that the present accusations qua Air Asia India find their root in baseless allegations made by Cyrus P Mistry and the Shapoor Pallonji Group against Tata Trusts Trustees (me included) and Tata Sons in his ‘revenge’ legal actions,” he had said in a statement.
After a bitter fallout with Tata Sons and Ratan Tata, Cyrus Mistry was ousted as the group chairman in late 2016. After his ouster, Mistry had flagged various governance issues at the group, including alleged wrongdoings at AirAsia India. Since then, Mistry and Tatas are locked in an acrimonious legal battle over various issues. Mistry said actions of the board of Tata Sons and the Tata Trustees will define their commitment to value system of the group.
“The founders built the Group on a vision far ahead of their time and were pioneers in many industries that established the industrialisation of India,” he said adding he had the privilege of working alongside 6,50,000 employees of the Tata Group and have seen their unstinting commitment to a set of values that form the cornerstone of the group’s ethos.