New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is likely to register a money laundering case against AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes and others accused of violating FDI norms and allegedly attempting, through bribery, to get the rules tweaked for a licence for its joint venture AirAsia India Ltd (AAIL) to operate international flights, sources said.
The ED has reportedly sought details of the case from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which on Monday filed a criminal case naming “unknown public servants” of the Civil Aviation Ministry, the then Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), along with R. Venkataramanan, Director, AirAsia India, and T. Kanagalingam alias Bo Lingam, Deputy CEO, AirAsia Group.
The CBI had named Fernandes and others in the case of violating FDI norms in giving effective management to a foreign entity through FIPB clearance in 2013.
According to an ED official, the agency is in contact with the CBI investigators and may receive details of the case any time.
“After a thorough analysis of the case, we might register a money laundering case in the matter under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act,” the official told IANS, requesting anonymity.
The ED is already probing corporate lobbyist Deepak Talwar, the middleman named in the CBI FIR, in a case of alleged money laundering and had raided several premises linked with him a week ago. Both AirAsia and Venkataramanan have denied the charges, saying the accusations were made with mala fide intention and will be defended in court.
Venkataramanan, whom the CBI is investigating with several others for allegedly lobbying to get aviation rules relaxed for AirAsia India with kickbacks to officials, said the accusations against him were an off-shoot of the allegations made by former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry and the Shapoor Pallonji Group against the trustees of Tata Trusts, including him, and Tata Sons.
“Emails purportedly written by me have been circulated in the media in the context of the issue of 5/20 (rule) in the aviation sector. This has been a much-debated policy matter and AirAsia India was one of the many airlines that had formally sought a review of this policy,” he had said in a statement.
Venkataramanan is the managing trustee of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and is responsible for the management and oversight of all the Tata Trusts.
AirAsia India has also denied allegations concerning indirect foreign control of AAIL allegedly in violation of FIPB, saying the matter had been “fully investigated by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the aviation regulator had given it clean chit in November 2017”.
The CBI FIR alleges that in December 2014, Sunil Kapoor, who runs an in-flight catering company, along with Bo Lingam handed over a packet containing Rs 50 lakhs to facilitate the removal of the rule that required five years domestic flying experience and 20 aircraft to get licence to fly internationally.
The CBI said it had received information that AirAsia India was indirectly controlled and operated by AirAsia Group and particularly AirAsia Berhad, violating the norms of the then FIPB.
This structure was directly formalised through a “Brand Licence Agreement” signed by AirAsia represented by Fernandes and AirAsia Berhad represented by Bo Lingam on April 17, 2013, which indirectly made AirAsia India a de facto subsidiary rather than a joint venture.
As per the then FDI policy, foreign airlines were allowed to own up to 49 percent of shares in domestic airlines but effective management control must remain with the Indian partner.