The case registered by the the Central Bureau of Investigation against AirAsia Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes alleges that “criminal conspiracy and criminal misconduct” involving ministers of the central government took place between 2013 and 2016, The Economic Times reported on Wednesday.
Two former ministers of the United Progressive Alliance government, who have not been identified, helped the airline get an international licence and Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearances, the CBI’s first information report says, according to NDTV. The FIR also says that AirAsia paid bribes for the licence and clearances.
The investigation agency has named 10 accused in its FIR – including AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes and Non-Executive Director R Venkataraman. The FIR also names Rajender Dubey, the director of Singapore-based HNR Trading Pte Ltd, a company the CBI alleges worked as a lobbyist and used its influence to get the 5/20 rule relaxed before the 2014 General Elections. AirAsia allegedly paid Rs 12.28 crore to HNR Trade Pte Ltd, The Economic Times reported.
The 5/20 rule, stipulated that a carrier needs to be in operation for five years and possess 20 aircraft to be eligible to fly abroad. The rule was replaced with a 0/20 rule in 2016, wherein a carrier need not be in operation for five years for overseas flights, but must allocate 20% of its fleet to the domestic sector.
The CBI’s FIR says that a meeting took place between a senior executive of AirAsia and a lobbying agent in December 2014, during the tenure of the National Democratic Alliance government. In this meeting, a packet with Rs 50 lakh in cash was paid to an unidentified private individual to get the 5/20 rule changed, The Economic Times reported.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, the airline denied the charges. “AirAsia India refutes any wrongdoing and is cooperating with all regulators and agencies to present the correct facts”, the company’s Director Shuva Mandal said.
Venkataraman also issued a statement claiming the CBI had “wrongly” named him as an accused in the case, and called the allegations baseless, ANI reported.
Instead, the official blamed former Tata Group Chairperson Cyrus Mistry, accusing him of taking “revenge”, NDTV reported. “It is commonly known that the present accusations against AirAsia India find their root in baseless allegations made by Cyrus P Mistry and the Shapoor Pallonji Group against Tata Trusts Trustees [me included] and Tata Sons in his ‘revenge’ legal actions,” Venkataraman said. Mistry had been ousted as the chairperson after a fallout with Ratan Tata and Tata Sons in 2016.
“Despite Cyrus Mistry and his company’s efforts to discredit the Trusts, we resolve to enhance the quality of life of our people,” Venkataraman claimed on Wednesday.