Enforcement Directorate (ED), the central government agency which investigates financial crimes, has summoned Praful Patel, civil aviation minister under UPA government and senior NCP leader in Air India’s scam. The minister awarded many profitable routes with three international airlines (Qatar Airways, Emirates and Air Arabia). Corporate lobbyist Deepak Talwar broke the deal for the three airlines and was paid 272 crore rupees for the same. “He illegally managed to secure favourable traffic rights for these airlines during 2008-09 at the cost of national carrier Air India,” said ED earlier.
A few months back, in an audacious mission, which strikingly resembles the mission undertaken by the spies in ‘Baby’, the Indian authorities, aided by their UAE counterparts, had arrested Deepak Talwar in the wee hours and brought them back to India in a specially chartered private jet. After Talwar investigation, the agency found email exchanges between Praful Patel and Mr. Talwar. “I will be happy to cooperate with the ED for their understanding of the complexities of the aviation industry,” said Patel.
Another case regarding the purchase of 111 aircraft worth more than 70,000 crore rupees is being investigated. Supreme Court of India directed CBI to register a case after senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member filed a PIL regarding irregularities in the case. The procurement of 43 Airbus aircraft is under scanner given the irregularities.
Cases have been registered against Air Asia Group CEO Tony Fernandes, the company Air Asia, Travel food owner Sunil Kapoor, aviation consultant Deepak Talwar, director of Air Asia R Venkatramanan, director of SNR Trading Rajendra Dubey and some anonymous government officials. Under the registered case, Air Asia group violated 5/20 rule to get the licenses for international operations and Foreign Investment Promotion Board rules. As per 5/20 rule, a company is required to maintain 20 aircraft and five years of experience to become eligible for the license. According to reports, the agency has alleged that Air Asia group employed lobbyist like Deepak Talwar to lobby with government servants for various clearances, the abolition of existing 5/20 rule of aviation and moderation in regulatory policies.
As per the details with the ED, its first of such payments were received by a Deepak Talwar-owned entity from Emirates in Bank of Singapore on June 3, 2008, for $23 million. At that time, Praful Patel was holding the Civil Aviation portfolio. Merely two months later, Emirates again transferred another $11 million in Bank of Singapore in the accounts of a “company owned and controlled by Talwar”. This was followed by payments from Air Arabia, Qatar Airways and Air Asia in the later months.
Deepak Talwar’s extradition followed by intense questioning by the ED, is, therefore, yielding impressive results. The details of the transfer of funds that have emerged from his questioning and alleged links between top ministers and bureaucrats during the UPA era with the corporate lobbyist have been brought into focus in a big way. The allegation that Talwar was paid kickbacks in order to use his influence and get the services of Air India on lucrative and highly profitable routes withdrawn is indeed quite serious. Further investigation into this case could lead to even more serious discoveries and point out how a corporate lobbyist was able to exercise considerable influence within the civil aviation circles.