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Ankur Khanna quits as CFO of AirAsia India

The Malaysian low-fare carrier and Tata Sons own 49% each in the airline. The remaining 2% is owned by Chairman S Ramadorai and Director R Venkataramanan.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jan 25, 2017, 11.25 AM IST
MUMBAI: AirAsia India's chief financial officer Ankur Khanna--who was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate in connection to alleged previous financial wrongdoing at the airline--has resigned barely 10 months after joining the airline, said a person close to the development.

"He is serving a three-month notice period currently," said the person, refusing to be identified.

An email sent to AirAsia India didn't yield any response.

The Malaysian low fare carrier and Tata Sons own 49% each in the airline. The remaining 2% is owned by Chairman S Ramadorai and Director R Venkataramanan.

Rumours of Khanna stepping down had been doing the rounds since December. An AirAsia India spokesperson had then denied them saying Khanna was "very much" still CFO of AirAsia India.

To be sure, Khanna's name hasn't featured in any allegations of financial bungling or management issues at AirAsia India. A senior official at the ED confirmed he was summoned solely because of his position as finance chief at the airline.

Khanna joined AirAsia India in April, 2016, according to his profile on Linkedin. Before that he had been regional finance director at Air France. He had been with the French carrier since 1999.

Ankur Khanna quits as CFO of AirAsia India

Since it began operations more than two years ago, AirAsia India has lost or replaced about ten top executives. The list includes its first, now controversial, CEO Mittu Chandilya, first chief financial officer Vijay Gopalan and commercial director Gaurav Rathore, apart from the heads of flight operations, operations control, HR, cabin crew, security, group operations and corporate quality.

A case against the airline has been registered by the ED--a finance ministry body responsible for enforcing economic laws and fighting economic crime in India--on violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA),1999.
FEMA was formulated to manage "foreign exchange with the objective of facilitating external trade and payments and for promoting the orderly development and maintenance of foreign exchange market in India."

The ED had summoned Khanna in a letter dated December 5 to appear before it on Dec 14. The airline management had sought more time to appear before it could appear.

The senior ED official cited above said Khanna had appeared before it a month earlier and assisted the directorate with documents for the investigation.

In the summon, the ED asked for the joint venture agreement between Tata Sons and AirAsia Berhad, certificates of incorporation of the airline, memorandum and article of association, its audited balance sheet for the year ending March 31, 2016, shareholding details and changes as well as board configuration since inception, period of appointment of its previous CEO Mittu Chandilya, details of foreign remittances received by AirAsia towards equity participation, declarations to the Reserve Bank of India regarding the same, documention on share issue to its overseas partner AirAsia Berhad, aircraft leasing agreements and their details.

The investigation follows a complaint by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy last year to the ED in which he accused the carrier of "money laundering."

Recent findings of a forensic investigation into the airline by Deloitte have also alleged irregular transactions, lobbying and vendor favouritism under Chandilya. The ED has also asked for documents related to the forensic investigation findings.

ET had first reported the findings on November 5.

Tata Sons’ ousted chairman Cyrus Mistry had referred to the investigation in a letter to Tata Sons’ board shortly after his removal on October 24.

AirAsia has featured prominently in the unprecedented corporate feud between Mistry and Tata Sons, after the former was ousted as chairman. Allegations against the airline have been a prominent part of legal documents filed by two home firms of Mistry against the salt-to-software conglomerate in the National Company Law Tribunal.

In the latest affidavit, letters from AirAsia India's former board member Bharat Vasani reveal that he repeatedly flagged corporate governance issues to Mistry, Ratan Tata and senior executives of Tata Sons before stepping down in November 2015. Vasani is Tata Sons' chief, legal and group general counsel.

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