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AirAsia case: ED calls in Tony Fernandes, R Venkataramanan again

Fernandes and other top managers of AirAsia are being investigated by CBI on charges of criminal conspiracy.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Jan 24, 2020, 08.08 PM IST
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NEW DELHI: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned afresh Tony Fernandes and other top executives of Malaysia-based AirAsia Bhd as well as R Venkataramanan, former director of AirAsia India, over allegations of money laundering. The agency has asked Venkataramanan to appear before it on February 10, said people aware of the matter.

Venkataramanan was the Tata Sons nominee on the board of AirAsia India, a joint venture between the two entities. He stepped down as managing trustee of the Tata Trusts in March last year and later exited AirAsia India. Venkataramanan didn’t respond to queries.

AirAsia boss Fernandes has been summoned on February 5 while former deputy group CEO Tharumalingam Kanagalingam, also known as Bo Lingam, has been asked to appear on February 3, after both failed to do so on January 20, said people with direct knowledge of the matter.

They couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. The airline has previously denied any wrongdoing.

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Directors Involved
Fernandes and other top managers of AirAsia are being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation on charges of criminal conspiracy under the Prevention of Corruption Act. CBI registered a first information report (FIR) in May 2018 after the ED filed the money laundering case.

The CBI said in the FIR that the directors were involved in wrongdoing. “The shareholders and Indian partners at the joint venture, including the board members, were not only aware of these intentions but also consciously violated the then FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) norms,” the FIR said.

The role of some bureaucrats has also come under the CBI’s scanner. “Source information” meetings with government servants were arranged by lobbyists hired by Fernandes and kickbacks running into crores of rupees were paid, according to the FIR. The CBI alleges that a conspiracy was hatched to get the so-called 5/20 rule amended during the second term (2009-14) of the Congressled United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. At the time, Indian carriers could only fly overseas if they had been operating for five years and had 20 planes. The 5/20 rule was relaxed in June 2016, scrapping the five-year requirement.

AirAsia applied to the FIPB in February 2013 and received formal approval in April 2013, despite irregularities in its application, the CBI has said. The FIPB ignored the violation of foreign direct investment (FDI) norms, as AirAsia India was indirectly controlled and operated by the Malaysia-based AirAsia. The rules stipulate that domestic carriers have to be controlled locally.

The said arrangement (company structure) was formalised on April 17, 2013, indirectly making AirAsia India a “de-facto subsidiary rather than a joint venture,” CBI said. The company denied the accusations in a 2018 press statement.

“AirAsia India Ltd (AAIL) refutes any wrongdoing and is cooperating with all regulators and agencies to present the correct facts,” it said. In its FIR, the CBI has also named Rajender Dubey, director of Singapore-based HNR Trading Pvt Ltd; Sunil Kapur, chairman, Total Food Services, Mumbai; Deepak Talwar, principal and founder, DTA Consulting, New Delhi; and HNR Trading as alleged lobbyists who used their influence to try and get the 5/20 rule relaxed before the general elections of 2014.

In a statement issued on Friday, spokesperson for Tata Sons said "the ED summons has been received by Mr Venkatramanan for the first time on January 22 and he has confirmed he will be attending to the ED summons as required". The statement by Tata Sons adds "based on due enquiry undertaken by AirAsia India Limited, there has been no wrongdoing by Mr R Venkatramanan"

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