Air India deals: ED probes alleged money laundering during UPA-I

NEW DELHI, OCT 20 (AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 10/20/2018 12:06:53 PM IST

Enforcement Directorate (ED) is probing the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines and the acquisition of 111 aircraft for alleged money-laundering during the UPA-1 era, The Indian Express reported on Saturday. 

The ED probe has come more than a year after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) began investigating the deals.

According to the report, which quotes unidentified ED officials, NCP leader Praful Patel was the Civil Aviation Minister when the said merger took place. He, however, has denied any wrong-doing and said that all decisions taken with regard to the merger were “collective”.

Last year, four CBI FIRs were lodged under provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). “While probing a case of money laundering against corporate consultant Deepak Talwar, we stumbled upon some money trail that is linked to the entire matter of Air India. We have traced a payment linked to the Air India case to an entity linked to Deepak Talwar. The money involved is huge,” The Indian Express quoted a senior ED official as saying.

Notably, Deepak Talwar is being probed in connection with alleged misuse of funds at his NGO Advantage India under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). He was not available for comments, the national daily said.

In January 2012, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had highlighted irregularities in the deals and called the decision to acquire 111 planes for Air India through debt “a recipe for disaster”. The CAG also called the merger of the state-run carriers “ill-timed”.

 “This was a recipe for disaster ab initio and should have raised alarm signals in Ministry of Civil Aviation, Public Investment Board and the Planning Commission,” the CAG report had said.

The ED would summon some officials who were involved in the decision making by the then UPA government to merge the two airlines. 

Further under the cloud is the decision to procure and then lease 111 airplanes. This had caused a huge loss to the public exchequer, while on the other hand foreign aircraft manufacturers had gained immensely. 

The CBI had registered cases against the unidentified officials of Air India, Ministry of Civil Aviation. It had accused them of criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption. 

The CBI had also registered a case against unknown officials of Air India, SAP AG, a German firm, computer major, IBM. The case pertained to the alleged irregularities in the procurement of software worth Rs 225 crore by the national carrier in 2011.

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