An aircraft operated by AirAsia X Bhd., right, taxis past a Malaysian Airline System Bhd. aircraft on the runway. (Photographer: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg)

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

R Venkataramanan, the non-executive director of AirAsia India Ltd. named by the Central Bureau of Investigation in its bribery probe, denied any wrongdoing and termed allegations against him “baseless”.

“I have been wrongly named as an accused by the CBI on operational matters where I had little or no role to play,” Venkataramanan, trustee at Tata Trusts, said in an emailed statement. The allegations of “wrongdoing and illegality” are aimed at discrediting the work done by Tata Trusts, he said.

Tata Trusts controls about two-thirds of Tata Sons Ltd., the parent of the Tata Group.

The CBI yesterday booked AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes, Director Venkataramanan and others for bribing unnamed government officials to obtain a flying permit for AirAsia India and to start international flights from the first day. The airline is a joint venture between AirAsia Berhad and Tata Sons.

The accusations find their roots in “baseless allegations” made by former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry and the Shapoor Pallonji Group against Tata Trust trustees and Tata Sons in his “revenge” legal actions, Venkataramanan said.

Mistry, removed as Tata Sons chairman in October 2016, had in a letter alleged that a forensic audit by Deloitte revealed fraudulent transactions worth Rs 22 crore with non-existent parties at AirAsia India. Venkatramanan, a director on the board of the airline, had found them to be “non-material”, he had said.

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

The CBI has also alleged that the accused bribed officials in the Civil Aviation Ministry to get the rules changed for AirAsia India. That included lobbying to get the 5/20 rule—five years of domestic flying and 20-plane fleet—abolished, according to the agency’s FIR. Venkataramanan denied any wrongdoing.

Emails purportedly written by me have been circulated in the media in the context of the issue of 5/20 in the aviation sector. This has been a much debated policy matter and Airasia India was one of the many airlines that had formally sought a review of this policy.
R Venkataraman, Non-Executive Director, AirAsia India

Malaysia’s AirAsia Berhad also denied allegations, saying the “trumped up accusations are baseless and motivated by considerations that as yet remain unknown”.

According to the CBI’s first information report, rules in 2014 allowed foreign airlines to hold 49 percent in a domestic carrier but the management control had to stay with the Indian partner. But, the agency said, the Malaysian partner controlled the Indian joint venture airline.

Allegations concerning indirect foreign control of AirAsia India Ltd. have been fully investigated, the Malaysian company said in the statement. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation had had effectively ruled that the operations and management of AirAsia India were in accordance with Foreign Exchange Management Act and foreign direct investment regulations, it said.