The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is probing the alleged roles of some government officials in awarding favorable air traffic rights to foreign airlines during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) tenure, has summoned former aviation minister Praful Patel on June 6, persons familiar with developments said.
The agency is also investigating the direct and indirect roles of “some other UPA ministers and bureaucrats” pertaining to the case that involved lobbyist Deepak Talwar, and these people could be summoned in due course, the persons said, requesting anonymity.
“It has been revealed that accused Deepak Talwar illegally engaged in liaisoning/lobbying with politicians, ministers, other public servants and officials of Ministry of Civil Aviation for airlines such as Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar Airways for securing undue benefits for them,” an earlier Enforcement Directorate statement said.
According to the agency, Talwar had illegally managed to secure favorable traffic rights for these airlines in 2008-09 at the cost of national carrier Air India.
The spokesperson for ED, the government’s specialized financial investigation agency, did not respond to phone calls and text messages.
HT first wrote about the matter on March 31.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Patel, who was the civil aviation minister in the United Progressive Alliance government, said he would be “happy to cooperate” with the ED “to help them understand the complexities of the aviation sector”.
Patel explained technical matters involved in the exchange of flying rights and cited the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in his support.
“The matter pertains to bilateral agreements for the exchange of flying rights between two governments where any private individual has no role to play. Traffic rights to foreign airlines are granted by their respective countries and not by the Government of India. Flying rights or ‘seat entitlements’ are equal for both countries. This policy has been in practice for the past 60 years or more till date, irrespective of any government,” he said.
Further, he added, the issue has been examined in great detail by government auditor Comptroller and Auditor General of India, which said: “the liberalized policy towards bilateral entitlements benefitted the Indian traveler considerably in terms of choices and lower tariffs.”
“Moreover, the CAG report does not point out any loss incurred by the exchequer and it has not indicated any government functionaries or pointed out any lacunae in the process,” Patel said.
Enforcement Directorate had provisionally attached the Rs 120 crore Hotel Holiday Inn in Aerocity, New Delhi, in a money laundering case that allegedly involved Deepak Talwar, his family members, and related entities.
The agency had initiated investigations in August 2017 on the basis of an FIR registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against officials of the civil aviation ministry, Air India and some unnamed private persons.
“Investigation under PMLA [Prevention of Money Laundering Act] revealed that in lieu of securing favorable traffic rights, these airlines made payments to the tune of ₹ 272 crores to Deepak Talwar during 2008-09.
“During the investigation, it has been revealed that Deepak Talwar created a web of entities owned by him and his family members in India and international offshore havens to launder proceeds of crime of ₹272 crores received from foreign airlines,” ED said in an earlier statement.