File photo of Praful Patel speaking at an event in 2006. (Photographer: Antoine Antoniol/Bloomberg News.) 

Praful Patel Summoned For UPA-Era Aviation Scam

The Enforcement Directorate has summoned senior Nationalist Congress Party leader and former aviation minister Praful Patel next week as part of its money laundering probe related to alleged losses suffered by national carrier Air India, officials said Saturday.

They said Patel, a Rajya Sabha member, has been asked to appear before the investigating officer of the case at 11 am on June 6 in New Delhi.

This is the first major action against a political leader in the alleged multi-crore aviation scam that is stated to have taken place during the United Progressive Alliance government led by Manmohan Singh.

Officials sources said Patel, a senior politician belonging to Sharad Pawar-led NCP, needs to be put through certain revelations made by arrested aviation lobbyist Deepak Talwar and certain evidence unearthed by the agency in pursuit of this case filed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

Patel, also the All India Football Federation president, has been asked to bring along certain documents related to his personal and official finances on the day of deposition, they said.

Meanwhile, the NCP leader said in Mumbai that he will be happy to engage with the Enforcement Directorate. “I will be happy to cooperate with ED for their understanding of the complexities of the aviation sector,” he told PTI over phone.

Patel, 62, has represented the Bandra-Gondia seat of Maharashtra in Parliament four times and was Union civil aviation minister in 2004. He was also appointed cabinet minister for heavy industries in 2011.

The agency had recently filed a charge sheet in the case naming Deepak Talwar. It has said that Talwar was in regular touch with Patel.

The Enforcement Directorate claimed in the charge sheet that Talwar, who has been arrested, allegedly finalised various communications addressed to Patel on behalf of Emirates and Air Arabia.

“There is evidence including e-mail conversations between Deepak and Patel,” the probe agency told the court.

According to the charge sheet, the investigation revealed that Talwar obtained undue favours for the private airlines using his contacts.

The Enforcement Directorate charged that Talwar had been engaged in liasioning/lobbying with politicians, ministers, other public servants and officials of Ministry of Civil Aviation for Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar for securing undue benefits for them.

“He (Talwar) illegally managed to secure favourable traffic rights for these airlines during 2008-09 at the cost of the national carrier, Air India,” the agency claimed.

It was also revealed that in lieu of securing favourable traffic rights, these airlines made payments to the tune of Rs 272 crore to Talwar during 2008-09.

“He created a web of his own entities and used companies of his son, Aditya Talwar, in India and international offshore havens to launder Rs 272 crore received from foreign airlines. Part of these payments were made to a bank account in Bank of Singapore belonging to a company Asiafield Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands and beneficially owned by Deepak Talwar,” the agency had said in a statement.

These proceeds of crime were “layered” through a series of international money transfers to partly integrate in India in Wave Hospitality Private Ltd., a company beneficially owned and controlled by Deepak Talwar in the name of his son Aditya, it had said.

While a court has issued non-bailable warrant against Aditya after the Enforcement Directorate told it that he was absconding from investigation, the agency has also grilled Deepak Talwar’s wife Deepa in the case. Deepak at present is in jail and has sought bail on health grounds which is under consideration of the court.

The Enforcement Directorate had told the court earlier that it was trying to find out the names of officials of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, National Aviation Company of India Ltd and Air India, who favoured foreign airlines, including Qatar Airways, Emirates and Air Arabia, by making the national carrier gave up profit-making routes and timings.

“It has been alleged that officials of Ministry of Civil Aviation, NACIL and Air India, by abusing their official position as public servants and receiving illegal gratification, in conspiracy with other public servants, private domestic and foreign airlines, made the national carrier gave up profit making routes and profit making timings of Air India in favour of national and international domestic and foreign private airlines,” Enforcement Directorate's advocate A R Aditya had told the court. “This resulted in a huge loss of market share to the national carrier and also led to pecuniary benefits to private domestic and foreign airlines.”

India held bilateral meetings with Dubai, Sharjah and Qatar after which there has been an increase in the seat entitlements for both the contracting countries and increase in points of call for foreign carriers, it said.

Deepak Talwar was booked by the ED in August 2017 and the Central Bureau of Investigation in criminal cases of corruption, while the Income Tax Department charged him with tax evasion.

He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate early this year after he was deported from Dubai.

Bloomberg Quint

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