The Enforcement Directorate (ED) Thursday told a Delhi special court that consultant Deepak Talwar, deported to India from the UAE Wednesday, was one of the main accused who allegedly facilitated dispersal of profit-making routes of Air India to private airlines using his connection with the then Civil Aviation Minister.
It claimed five companies associated with Talwar were paid in excess of Rs 212 crore in connection with the Air India case.
The ED named Air Arabia, Emirates and Qatar Airways as “beneficiaries of route dispersal”.
The alleged deliberate ceding of profitable routes and schedules to private airlines is one of four cases being probed by the ED — the remaining three are related to the Air India-Indian Airlines merger, purchase of 111 aircraft from Boeing and Airbus for Rs 70,000 crore, and opening of certain training institutes with foreign investment.
NCP leader Praful Patel was Civil Aviation Minister when the merger took place during UPA-I rule. In past media interactions, Patel denied any wrongdoing and said all decisions had been collective.
The four ED cases are based on four CBI FIRs lodged last year and have been registered under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
The ED told the court that Talwar played the role of a middleman in purchase of Airbus aircraft by Air India and received kickbacks of over Rs 88 crore in the account of Advantage India, the NGO controlled by him.
Special Judge S S Mann sent Talwar to ED custody for seven days. The agency had sought his custody for 14 days to question him, saying its investigation had revealed that he acted as a middleman in irregular seat-sharing on Air India’s profitable routes with three international airlines.
ED counsel D P Singh contended that officials of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, NACIL, Air India, by abusing their official positions as public servants and by receiving illegal gratification, in conspiracy with other public servants, private domestic and foreign airlines, made Air India give up profit-making routes and profit-making timings.
“This resulted in huge loss of market share to the national carrier and also led to pecuniary benefits to private domestic airlines,” Singh said.
Talwar’s counsel Tanveer Ahmed Mir opposed the ED contention, saying its investigation was based on documents which it already had, so no purpose would be served by taking him into custody.
The ED, however, said the accused did join the investigation and “while probing a case of money laundering against… Talwar, we stumbled upon some money trail that is linked to the entire matter of Air India. We have traced a payment linked to the Air India case to entities linked to Deepak Talwar. Though he is not an office-bearer in these companies, we have intelligence that he is the ultimate beneficiary. We need to question him further on these companies.”
In November 2017, the CBI had registered a case of cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy against Talwar for allegedly diverting foreign funds received by NGO Advantage India for personal use.
In September 2016, The Indian Express first reported that funds donated by two foreign firms — MBDA, Europe’s leading missile manufacturing company, and the erstwhile EADS which in 2014 was reorganised as the Airbus Group — to Advantage India had come under the scanner of the Income Tax department.
In December 2017, the Delhi High Court had asked the CBI not to take any coercive action against Talwar and the NGO in a criminal case over alleged violation of foreign funding laws. But the High Court made it clear that this protection would be available only if they continued to cooperate with the CBI investigation.