Probing an alleged money-laundering case involving arrested corporate lobbyist Deepak Talwar, the Enforcement Directorate has told a Delhi court that former Civil Aviation Minister “Mr Praful Patel is a dear friend” of Talwar who allegedly facilitated dispersal of profit-making Air India routes to private airlines during 2008-09 using his “proximity to the minister and aviation personnel in India”.
The ED has told the court that in lieu of securing favourable traffic rights for three foreign airlines, Talwar received payments to the tune of Rs 272 crore during 2008-09.
These claims were made by the ED in its chargesheet — final report — before Special Judge Anuradha Shukla Bhardwaj who took cognizance of the report and issued non-bailable warrants (NBW) against Talwar’s son and co-accused Aditya Talwar in the airlines seat allocation case.
The Special Judge also rejected the bail application of Deepak Talwar and listed the matter for further hearing on May 9 when Aditya has to be present in court. Deepak Talwar is currently in judicial custody.
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.
Praful Patel was Civil Aviation Minister when the merger took place during UPA-I rule. He was not available for comment on Wednesday. In past media interactions, Patel denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that all decisions had been collective.
The ED final report stated that investigation into the alleged roles of Deepak Talwar and his son have been completed but the probe against others “namely Yasmin Kapoor (a close associate of Shri Talwar), Deepa Talwar, the Minister and officials of Ministry of Civil Aviation and other public servants” is “still in progress”.
Detailing its investigation after Talwar was deported to India from Dubai on January 31, the ED said in its report to the court: “The investigation has established that Deepak Talwar has obtained various facilities in the aviation sector, increased seat entitlements/points of call for air traffic rights, consultancy service for operation of airlines etc, for Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar Airways.”
“The then Minister of Civil Aviation who happens to be Sh. Praful Patel was dear friend of Deepak Talwar and he used to meet him socially. Deepak Talwar also finalised various communications on behalf of Emirates to be sent to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA).”
“Deepak Talwar had obtained various benefits for Emirates in respect of Air Traffic Rights in India as claimed on the PPT (power point presentation) prepared by him in this regard. He also disclosed that he had business relations with Air Arabia. He managed M/s Track India Pvt Ltd owned by him and his wife to be appointed as General Sales Agency (GSA) under an agreement entered into with Air Arabia,” the ED claimed.
It stated that Deepak Talwar also “disclosed that he prepared various letters for Air Arabia to be addressed to Mr. Praful Patel, the then Civil Aviation Minister. He further disclosed that the said M/s Track India Ltd has also been engaged by Qatar Airways to work as GSA for India”.
The agency also claimed that “Deepak Talwar replied in negative in response to entire questions asked to him categorically in respect to his association and relation with Qatar Airways on the issue of bilaterals with India and he cleverly denied any relations with them in respect of increase in seat entitlements, whereas the documents seized during the search operations undertaken in this case by the ED as well as Income Tax Department tell a different story”.
It said that “several e-mails and related correspondences meant for MoCA were found in the possession of Deepak Talwar. “Particularly, a draft letter to be printed on Qatar Airways Letterhead. This establishes his relation with Qatar Airways in respect of seat entitlement. Further, a huge amount has been received in the account of the entity i.e. Asia Field Limited controlled by him from Qatar Airways,” the agency said.
“The role of Deepak Talwar was further intensified when several draft letters of communication of Emirates to the Minister of Civil Aviation, Government of India, were recovered from the possession of Deepak Talwar and his associates.”
“These communication were draft letters prepared on behalf of Emirates and mostly addressed to the Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Director General of Civil Aviation of India, Consul General of India in Dubai etc. The contents of the communications revealed his contribution and involvement in the affairs of Emirates connected to the aviation interest in India,” the ED claimed.