By Rajnish Singh
New Delhi, March 17 (IANS) An amount of Rs 234 crore received in two bank accounts of Deepak Talwar is among multiple hidden money trails the Enforcement Directorate (ED) wants to establish during questioning of the corporate lobbyist who is in Tihar Jail over his alleged involvement in liaising for the purchase of 43 aircraft for Indian Airlines from French company Airbus in 2005.
The agency has inputs that Talwar had received Rs 92 crore from Airbus in one account and Rs 142 crore in another.
An ED investigator, on condition of anonymity, told IANS that the agency will begin quizzing Talwar from Monday and that a special focus would be on the money he received in the accounts of his various entities from Airbus to obtain benefits for the industry and some other foreign companies.
The agency is also seeking links how the money received in Talwar’s accounts were transferred to the accounts of other government employees, including those in Civil Aviation Ministry, who abused their position in 2004 and decided to purchase 111 aircraft for the national airlines costing about Rs 70,000 crore when Praful Patel was the Minister of Aviation in the UPA government.
“We are ready with over 100 specific questions that will help in unravelling the money trail in the deal,” said the ED official, adding “the procedure started soon after a Delhi court on Friday allowed us to question Talwar but in the jail premises.”
Talwar is currently in judicial custody and the court has allowed the ED to interrogate him on jail premises from Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The ED has registered a case related to purchase of aircraft by Indian Airlines from Airbus Industrie, France, in 2005.
Talwar will be asked names of those public servants in Civil Aviation Ministry who in conspiracy with other government officials “revived the previous shelved plans” for purchasing aircraft, which gave him pecuniary advantage in conspiracy with Airbus, while causing a corresponding loss to the government in carrying out the purchase of 43 craft by Indian Airlines from the firm.
Earlier, there were proposals for purchasing a few aircraft, but were not acted upon due to “financially unviability.” The Director’s Report of Air India for 2000-01 mentions that airlines would go only for leasing aircraft.
About the acquisition of aircraft by erstwhile Indian Airlines Ltd (IAL) in February 2006, the Comptroller of Auditor General (CAG) in its August 17, 2011 report observed that the IAL signed purchase agreement with Airbus for supply of 43 aircraft (with CFM Engine) at an estimated cost of Rs 8,399.60 crore.
It is alleged that initially Air India had planned to purchase only 24 aircraft and Indian Airlines 43 aircraft, said the official.
Talwar will also face questions how the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India employees misused their positions and ordered purchase of 111 aircraft from Boeing (US) and Airbus (Europe) with their cost including interest payments being pegged at Rs 67,000 crore.
In its FIR in 2017, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has mentioned that “such an ambitious purchase order was made without studying requirements, requisite transparency and proper application of mind causing resultant loss to the government exchequer”.
“The entire acquisition (for both AIL and IAL) was to be funded through debt (to be repaid through revenue generation), except for a relatively small equity infusion of Rs 325 crore for IAL. Though this was a recipe for disaster ab initio, it did not raise alarm signals in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Public Sector Investment Board and Planning Commission,” said the FIR.
Talwar would face questions over his involvement in another money laundering case related to his suspected role in the irregular seat sharing on Air India’s profitable routes with some international airlines.
The ED is also probing various other cases related to money laundering against Talwar who was deported from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 30.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at [email protected])