CBI summons AirAsia CEO to join probe by June 6, examines HNR Director

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New Delhi, June 1 (IANS) The CBI has asked Malaysia-based AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes to appear before it by Wednesday to face queries relating to alleged bribery to get FDI rules tweaked and also examined the Director of Singapore-based HNR Pte Ltd.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has alleged that bribe was paid to obtain a licence to operate international flights by the joint venture of AirAsia India Ltd (AAIL) with Tata Sons Ltd.

An informed CBI source told IANS that Fernandes had been asked, through email, to come and record his statement before the investigators at the agency’s headquarters here.

In the criminal case filed by the agency on Monday, some “unknown public servants” of the Civil Aviation Ministry and the then Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), along with AirAsia India Director R. Venkataramanan and AirAsia Group Deputy CEO T. Kanagalingam alias Bo Lingam have been named.

“We are planning to issue separate notices to other accused persons named in the FIR after scrutinising all the documents,” a CBI official said, requesting anonymity.

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Fernandes, sources said, needed to be questioned regarding the FIPB approval obtained by the company for investing in India.

The CBI has alleged that efforts were made by him to get the 5/20 rule of civil aviation policy changed so that AirAsia could start international operations. The rule requires that an airline must be operating in India for five years and have at least 20 aircraft in its fleet before starting international operations.

An agency official said it examined Rajendra Dubey, Director of HNR Pte Ltd, Green IT Com Pvt Ltd and RRT Services India Pvt Ltd.

The CBI officials said Dubey was examined for about Rs 12.28 crore he received for paying “bribes” to unknown government officials.

According to the CBI FIR, during 2015-16, AAIL remitted about Rs 12.28 crore to HNR Trading Pte Ltd, owned by Dubey, for a sham contract on the basis of a bogus agreement on plain papers.

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This was used for paying bribes to unknown public servants and others for securing permit for operation of international scheduled air transport services through Deepak Talwar of DTA Consulting and Sunil Kapur, Chairman of Travel/Total Food Services, who acted as lobbying agents.

It also alleged that Dubey had played a role as a liaison agent and was instrumental in seeking appointments and facilitating meetings for officials of AAIL with various Indian government officials for clearance of various formalities.

AirAsia and Venkataramanan have denied the charges, saying the accusations were made with mala fide intention and will be defended in court.

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 lakh to facilitate the removal of the 5/20 rule. It was not clear who the money was given to.

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Fernandes is also accused of “putting pressure” on former AirAsia India CEO Mittu Chandilya to pursue changes in regulatory policies for international aviation in India which would be beneficial to the company.

Venkataramanan has 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. Mistry, in turn, has denied the allegations.

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 and the company had given a clean chit in November 2017”.

–IANS

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