NEW DELHI : In mounting trouble for AirAsia Bhd, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned its chief executive, Tony Fernandes, on 20 January in an ongoing probe against the airline for allegedly lobbying the Indian government to secure overseas flight permits and violating rules that bar foreign airlines from controlling Indian carriers.
The agency has also issued summons to other senior officials of the airline under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), said a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The person did not identify the other AirAsia officials.
ED is also investigating irregularities of funds as well as criminal misconduct against the carrier when it was lobbying for a licence to start services in India.
AirAsia India is owned 51% by Tata Sons, while AirAsia has a 49% stake. It operates more than 175 daily flights to over 20 destinations across the country.
A spokesperson for AirAsia India declined to comment. Kuala Lumpur-based AirAsia Group was not immediately available for comment.
The action against Fernandes comes more than a year after both agencies, ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), started their separate probes into the matter.
In June 2018, ED widened its probe into the AirAsia money laundering case, after collecting documents from the ministry of commerce and industry concerning FDI clearances given to the airline.
The agency has been investigating the FDI proposal made by the airline and clearances given by the erstwhile Foreign Investment Promotion Board to AirAsia so that it could launch its operations in India.
In May 2018, ED had filed a criminal case of money laundering against AirAsia officials and others for allegedly trying to manipulate government policies through corrupt means to get an international licence for its Indian venture, AirAsia India Ltd.
The agency had pressed charges under PMLA to probe the trail of funds that was used to create illegal assets. At the time, CBI had searched the offices of AirAsia India and filed a complaint against Fernandes for allegedly lobbying the government to secure overseas flight permits for the Indian entity.
CBI’s first information report (FIR) filed in May 2018 said the violations occurred from 2013 to 2016, ahead of the government easing curbs on local airlines starting overseas flights in June 2016.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had approached the Delhi high court in 2016, seeking suspension of AirAsia’s licence. He was joined by the Federation of Indian Airlines comprising IndiGo, Jet Airways, GoAir and SpiceJet. In November 2016, the court directed the aviation regulator to conduct an inquiry.
The FIR, a copy of which was reviewed by Mint, also names AirAsia’s deputy CEO Tharumalingam Kanagalingam, former AirAsia India director Ramachandran Venkataramanan, HNR Trading Pte Ltd’s Rajender Dubey, Travel/Total Food Service’s Sunil Kapoor, AirAsia India and its parent and unknown government officials.