The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has provisionally attached the Holiday Inn hotel in Aerocity near the IGI Airport in Delhi in connection with its money laundering probe against corporate consultant Deepak Talwar.
The ED has alleged that Talwar received over Rs 272 crore as kickbacks for pushing several deals in the aviation sector in India. This money, the ED has claimed, was routed through several shell companies floated by Talwar, and used to buy the hotel, which is valued at over Rs 120 crore.
The hotel, however, said on Saturday evening that it was “fully operational”. Asked for a comment, Parisa Chum, Director Communications, India, Middle East and Africa, InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), said: “We not privy to the details of the case so we cannot comment on it. The hotel is fully operational at the moment.” An order of provisional attachment, which is issued by the Director of the ED, has no impact on the ground until it is confirmed by the adjudicating authority. The confirmation has to come within 90 days, following which the owner of the property can be deprived of the use of the property. The adjudicating authority’s order can be challenged in the High Court.
Talwar, who was recently deported from the UAE, is under investigation by the CBI and ED for his alleged role as the key middleman in the purchase of 111 aircraft by the erstwhile state-owned domestic carrier Indian Airlines from Airbus and Boeing during the UPA regime.
The CBI and ED have filed four separate FIRs in connection with these purchases, the 2011 merger of Air India with Indian Airlines, and the ceding of profitable routes and timings in favour of foreign airlines that led to massive losses to the national airline.
The ED, which is probing the case based on an FIR registered by the CBI in 2017, has arraigned officials of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL), Air India, and unknown private persons as accused. NACIL was formed to oversee the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, and was renamed Air India Limited in 2010.
“It has been revealed that accused Deepak Talwar illegally engaged in liaisoning/lobbying with politicians, ministers, other public servants and officials of Ministry of Civil Aviation for airlines such as Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar Airways for securing undue benefits for them. He illegally managed to secure favourable traffic rights for these airlines during 2008-09 at the cost of National carrier, Air India,” the ED has said in a statement.
According to the ED, its investigations have revealed that in lieu of securing favourable traffic rights, these airlines made payments to the tune of Rs 272 crore to Talwar during 2008-09.
On February 13, The Indian Express reported that three years after Indian Airlines signed a deal to purchase 43 aircraft from Airbus, the French aircraft manufacturer incorporated a company in partnership with Deepak Talwar, and transferred $10.5 million to its accounts. Talwar’s son Aditya is one of the directors of the Singapore-based company.
The payments were made in two tranches of $ 4.5 million and $ 6 million to Auctus Capital PTE Ltd in 2012, three years after the company was incorporated, and almost six years after the deal between Indian Airlines and Airbus was signed.
The ED has claimed that its probe has revealed that Talwar created a web of entities, owned by him and members of his family, in India and offshore havens, to launder the Rs 272 crore received from the foreign airlines.
“Part of these payments were made to a bank account in Bank of Singapore, belonging to a company M/s Asiafield Limited registered in the British Virgin Islands and beneficially owned by Deepak Talwar. These Proceeds of Crime were layered through a series of international money transfers, to finally integrate in India in M/s Wave Hospitality Private Limited, a company beneficially owned and controlled by Deepak Talwar and his family members in the name of his son, Aditya Talwar. These Proceeds of Crime were then utilized in the construction of Hotel Holiday Inn in Aerocity, New Delhi,” the ED statement said.
Deepak Talwar had fled the country in 2017 to avoid the investigation. However, he was deported by the immigration authority of Dubai on January 31 this year, and was arrested by the ED under The Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002. He is in judicial custody at present.
Talwar’s lawyer Tanvir Ahmed Mir has earlier denied any wrongdoing on the part of his client, and said Talwar had nothing to do with any of the companies mentioned by the ED.
“The ED is indulging in kite-flying. I deny any kind of payment made to Mr Talwar directly or indirectly. Without any confirmation from Airbus obtained through issuance of a letter rogatory, it is sinful to accuse my client and defame him in public domain. Mr Aditya Talwar has no concern with Airbus or any of these deals. He is not a beneficiary.”
Airbus had earlier told The Indian Express: “We do not comment on any ongoing investigation. We have cooperated with the Indian authorities in the past and will continue to do so.”