A global airport logistics firm, blocked from doing business in India because of its links to Pakistan, was trying to circumvent the government’s security concerns with the help of the politically-connected businessman Moin Qureshi, HT can reveal.
Former CBI director AP Singh has admitted to HT that he made calls to government officials on Qureshi’s behalf seeking information about a stalled bid by the controversial meat exporter and Dubai-based Dnata to win contracts at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Qureshi’s relationship with Singh is under investigation by income tax authorities, who have obtained BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) exchanges between the two men and are probing rental payments from Qureshi for premises in Singh’s family home.
Dnata operates at airports in the US, UK, UAE and Pakistan and other countries. In 2001, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government refused a Dnata-led consortium mandatory security clearance to do similar work in India after it won a bid to supply services in four airports, including Delhi and Mumbai.
An IB report at the time raised concerns about the company’s apparent links to Pakistan, which rendered it ineligible for doing business in sensitive sectors, according to two intelligence sources familiar with the case.
However, in 2013, Dnata made a fresh attempt to start operations in India by picking up a 50% stake in Indian Premier Services Pvt Ltd (IPSPL), a firm incorporated by Qureshi. Company records accessed by HT reveal that IPSPL was started by another Qureshi firm, Forum Hospitality Pvt Ltd, and his associate Aditya Sharma in 2012.
Sharma exited from the venture on March 7, 2013 and his stake was picked up by Dnata. It appointed Martin Vincent Dennehy, a vice-president for its UAE operations, as a board director. The firm immediately made a successful bid for “Meet and Greet” services at Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi.
Once again, the clearances were held up as the IB continued to flag concerns over Pakistan. “We believe that it has investments as well as employees from Pakistan. In fact, one of the facilities that came under attack at Karachi airport from the Pakistani Taliban was a Dnata facility,” said a senior intelligence official familiar with the case on the condition of anonymity. These details are now part of a voluminous report submitted by the I-T department to the Union ministry of finance, HT has learnt.
Qureshi was aware of the hold-up and contacted his old friend, AP Singh, to intervene in the matter. Text messages exchanged on BBM and recovered from Qureshi’s computers by the I-T department have confirmed Singh’s role in the matter. “I was only helping an old friend and he requested me to find out where the file was stuck,” Singh told HT. “I spoke to Nehchal Sandhu (former director of IB and the current deputy National Security Adviser) and once it was clear that the security clearance would not come, I told Qureshi,” Singh said.
A spokesperson for Delhi International Airport Ltd confirmed that the bid was cancelled in May this year due to the security concerns raised by IB.
Sandhu denied having ever seen any report on Dnata during his tenure. “When I was the director, I never dealt with any report on Dnata. When I was approached about this, I had already retired and I did not entertain any request about this issue,” Sandhu told HT.
Singh, who is now a member of the Union Public Service Commission, admits to a long relationship with Qureshi. They are both from the elite Doon School in Dehradun as well as St Stephen’s College, Delhi.
Dnata’s annual report for 2013-14 records its keenness to enter India 12 years after it was denied business on security grounds. It says that “…in our second year of operations in India, we have continued to build our brand and exceeded our expectations. India will continue to be a focus market for our travel services over the coming years”.
Company records show financial transactions between Qureshi’s holding firm and Dnata and indicate that IPSPL is based out of Qureshi’s bungalow in Defence Colony, Delhi, which also houses his meat exporting firm. Deep Gandhi, an additional director on IPSPL’s board, is an old Qureshi associate and serves on the board of several other firms.
Gandhi has provided an incorrect residential address to the registrar of companies. A spot visit by HT revealed his mother at an adjoining apartment which was raided by the I-T department earlier this year. Gandhi could not be traced for comment.
Dnata spokesperson Iris Dias did not respond to specific queries. In a statement she said “We are not in a position to comment on matters being investigated by authorities. Dnata is a shareholder in IPSPL, which was awarded the licence agreement to provide meet-and-assist and lounge services at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi. However, this licence has since lapsed. We do not currently operate lounge services at Delhi airport, but India remains a highly-valued market and customer base to Dnata.”
HT visited Qureshi’s office twice but he was unavailable. Queries were directed to his associate, Kuldeep Singh, who declined comment. Qureshi’s phone was also switched off and he remained unavailable for comment despite several messages.