ED summons former minister Praful Patel in UPA-era aviation scam

Praful Patel
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned senior NCP leader and former aviation minister Praful Patel (pictured) next week as part of its money-laundering probe into alleged losses suffered by Air India in a multi-crore aviation scam during the UPA era, officials said on 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. This is the first major action against a political leader in the alleged multi-crore aviation scam, which is stated to have taken place during the UPA government.

Official sources said Patel needed to be put through certain revelations made by arrested aviation lobbyist Deepak Talwar and certain evidence unearthed by the agency. 

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 he would be happy to cooperate with the ED, so that the agency understood the "complexities" of the aviation sector. "I will be happy to cooperate with ED for their understanding of the complexities of the aviation sector," he said.

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 ED 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 ED 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 ED 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 Limited, 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 ED 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 ED 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 (NACIL) 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.

"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," ED's advocate A R Aditya had told the court.

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 (CBI) in criminal cases of corruption, while the Income Tax Department charged him with tax evasion.  He was arrested by the ED early this year after he was deported from Dubai.

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