Former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel on Thursday skipped summons by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning in connection with a money laundering probe. ED sources said he would be called again next week.
ED is probing multiple cases of alleged money laundering on the basis of four FIRs filed by CBI in connection with irregularities in the merger of Air India with Indian Airlines, the purchase of 111 aircraft from Airbus and Boeing, alleged ceding of profitable routes to foreign airlines, and alleged corruption in opening of certain training institutes with foreign investment.
ED had named Patel in a chargesheet filed on May 1, where it said that corporate lobbyist Deepak Talwar was a close friend of his and that Talwar had exchanged several emails with his office in the contemporaneous period when alleged irregularities in acquisition of aircraft were committed and profitable routes and time slots of Air India were traded with foreign airlines.
The CBI and the ED have alleged that Talwar played the role of the middleman in these deals which were all struck during the UPA regime, when Patel was the Civil Aviation Minister. Patel has denied wrongdoing, saying all decisions were collective.
Earlier, Patel told journalists in Mumbai that he was unable to attend the summons due to “prior commitments”. “Due to my prior commitments, I have requested the ED for another date,” Patel told reporters.
An ED official, said, “He would be summoned again on June 10 or 11.”
In its prosecution complaint filed on May 1, the ED told a Delhi court that “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 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.
Detailing its probe 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.”
Talwar’s lawyer Tanvir Ahmed Mir earlier denied any wrongdoing on part of his client.