Group NV A320 aircraft operated by AirAsia Bhd. stands on the tarmac before its unveiling at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition in Langkawi, Malaysia. (Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg)

Enforcement Directorate Files Money Laundering Case Against AirAsia, Officials

After the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate has now registered a criminal case of money laundering against AirAsia officials and others for allegedly trying to manipulate government policies through corrupt means to get international licence for its Indian venture AirAsia India Ltd., officials said today.

The central probe agency, they said, has pressed sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act to probe if alleged tainted funds were used to create illegal assets and it has taken cognisance of the CBI FIR to lodge its own case. They added that the accused in its FIR, known as the Enforcement Case Information Report, are the same as those in complaint filed by CBI.

The agency, they said, will go into the money trail of the accused and the entire deal and a joint probe by the two agencies is expected to henceforth go forward in the case.

The agency's office in Mumbai has been probing a separate case against the airline and its executives under the Foreign Exchange Management Act.

Also read: AirAsia India Blames The One Person Not Yet Being Investigated By CBI

This probe in the case, registered last year, was initiated on the basis of the claims of ousted Tata Group Chairman Cyrus Mistry's allegation that fraudulent transactions of Rs 22 crore, involving non-existent entities in India and Singapore, were carried out in an instance involving the airline.

The CBI, in its criminal FIR registered two days back, had booked Group Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia Tony Fernandes, Tharumalingam Kanagalingam also known as Bo Lingam, former Deputy Group CEO of Malaysia-based Air Asia Berhad, and R Venkataramanan, Director Air Asia India Ltd, Bengaluru, besides companies Air Asia India Pvt Ltd and Air Asia Berhad.

Also read: CBI Names Tata Trusts’ Venkat In AirAsia India Corruption Probe

The allegation pertains to AirAsia officials and others allegedly trying to manipulate government policies through corrupt means to get international licence for its Indian venture AirAsia India.

The CBI case has been registered under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 13(2) read with 13 (1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The agency had alleged that Venkataramanan was lobbying in the government to secure mandatory approvals, some of them through “non-transparent means”, including the then Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance, No Objection Certificate and the attempt for removal or modification of 5/20 rule. To be eligible for international operations, the company was required to have five years of experience and fleet of 20 aircraft as per 5/20 rule.

Also read: Tata Trusts’ Venkataramanan Says Wrongly Named In AirAsia India Corruption Probe

The company is yet to get international flying permit as it currently has only 18 aircraft, they said. Fernandes wanted it to fly internationally from the day of getting flying permit granted in May, 2014, the CBI alleged.

He and his local Indian partner Tata Sons through their nominee Venkatramanan would lobby in government to get all approvals including FIPB clearance and amend or removal of existing 5/20 rule for international operations, the FIR has alleged.

The agency has also named Rajender Dubey, Director of Singapore-based HNR Trading pte Ltd, Sunil Kapur, Chairman Total Food Services, Mumbai and Deepak Talwar, Principal and Founder DTA consulting, New Delhi and the company HNR Trading as alleged lobbyists who used their influence to get 5/20 rule relaxed “before General Elections of 2014”.

Air Asia had denied any wrongdoing after the CBI filed the case and carried out raids at multiple premises.

It is alleged that Air Asia India – a joint venture between Tata Sons and Malaysian company AirAsia Berhad – was indirectly controlled and operated by the Malaysia group and particularly AirAsia Berhad, violating various existing norms of the now defunct Foreign Investment Promotion Board.