ED registers 4 UPA-era cases under money laundering act
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which investigates foreign exchange violations, on Friday launched a money laundering probe into four aviation sector cases involving the national airline that date back to the years in which the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is already investigating corruption charges in the four cases, which include the 2007 merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, which created an entity called National Aviation Company of India Ltd (NACIL) that was later renamed Air India.
“The ED has filed four Enforcement Case Information Reports (ECIRs) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) on the basis of CBI FIRs,” said an ED official who requested anonymity. An ECIR is the ED’s equivalent of a police first information report (FIR).
Under the money laundering probe, the ED will identify proceeds of crime, basically any bribe money that was generated and how it was laundered, said the official cited above.
Of the four cases, two pertain to the controversial merger of Air India and Indian Airlines and alleged irregularities in purchase and leasing of aircraft by the two state-run carriers under the UPA government that caused “huge” losses to the exchequer, according to the CBI.
The other two cases relate to the surrender of profitable routes and timing slots of Air India to favour its national and international rivals that also allegedly caused a “huge” loss, and alleged wrongdoing in the purchase of software for the airline.
In May last year, the CBI registered multiple FIRs against unknown officials of the civil aviation ministry and private persons to probe the charges of irregularities in decision to purchase 111 aircraft for Indian Airlines and Air India, costing about Rs 70,000 crore, leasing of a large number of aircraft and forcing the national carriers to give up profit-making routes and timings to domestic and international airlines . The CBI first information reports were lodged following a direction by the Supreme Court on a petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, a non-government organisation. The CBI was also probing whether there was any malafide intention behind the merger of Indian Airlines and Air India.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India had in 2011 questioned the rationale behind the government’s decision to order 111 airplanes — 48 from Airbus and 68 from Boeing.
(With PTI inputs)