Former civil aviation minister and NCP leader Praful Patel Monday appeared before the ED in connection with a money laundering probe related to losses suffered by Air India as part of an alleged multi-crore aviation scam, officials said. Patel appeared before the agency around 10:30 am in New Delhi, they said. His statement will be recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and he is expected to face a series of questions.
The case emerges from a criminal complaint registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for alleged irregularities in fixing air slots for international airlines that purportedly led to losses for Air India, the national aviation carrier. Patel, 62, has also been named in a recent charge sheet filed by the federal agency before a court as a person known to alleged aviation lobbyist Deepak Talwar, arrested by the ED sometime back.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, who was in-charge of the civil aviation ministry between 2004 and 2011, has not been mentioned as an accused in the case. Sources had told PTI that the ED had already questioned a number of people in the senior management of the state-owned airline and the aviation ministry.
Patel, a Rajya Sabha MP, was expected to be quizzed about the statements and revelations made by Talwar, officials said. The ED charge sheet in the case named Talwar and claimed he was in regular touch with Patel. It has alleged that Talwar finalised various communications addressed to Patel on behalf of Emirates and Air Arabia.
Talwar obtained undue favours for the private airlines using his contacts, according to the chargesheet. The agency has also alleged that Talwar was engaged in lobbying with politicians, ministers, public servants and officials in the civil aviation ministry for Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar Airways in order to secure undue benefits to these airlines. "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 has claimed.
It has also been alleged 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 the 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 the Bank of Singapore, belonging to a company called Asiafield Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands and beneficially owned by Deepak Talwar," the agency has said in the charge sheet. Talwar was arrested by the ED early this year after he was deported from Dubai.