The Supreme Court Monday stayed a Delhi High Court order allowing Antigua-based Aditya Talwar, son of corporate lobbyist Deepak Talwar, to appear through his counsel before a trial court in a money laundering case related to allegedly influencing government decisions to favour foreign airlines, causing losses to Air India.
Aditya Talwar, who is yet to join the probe, has been accused by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) of allegedly receiving Rs 272 crore in kickbacks through his firms -- Asiafield and Gilt Asset Management -- in the case involving his father.
The national carrier was allegedly made to give up profit-making routes and timings for offshore airlines of UAE and Qatar, ED said in its plea against the high court order which, on May 30, allowed Aditya appear via his lawyer.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was told by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the ED, that an accused who is out of the country and whose whereabouts are not known has been allowed by the Delhi High Court to appear through his counsel.
"Issue notice. Jayant Mohan, counsel accepts notice for the respondent (Talwar). Matter to be listed on July 23 for final disposal," said the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Aditya, said that the CBI had lodged the FIR in 2017 in the main alleged aviation scam case and no charge sheet has been filed in that.
The presence of the accused was being sought by ED in the money laundering case, related to the alleged proceeds of the crime, he said, adding that the ED now wanted the case to be transferred to the apex court when the Delhi High Court was seized of the case.
To this, ED said: "In order to escape the clutches of the investigating agency, the Petitioner (Talwar) acquired a foreign citizenship in October 2017, after the investigation of the instant case was initiated by the Respondent (ED) and acquired the citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda only in a bid to evade the process of law.
"Despite the repeated issuance of summons, he (Talwar) chose to not join the investigation herein, which has only resulted in a delay of the investigation of the instant case."
Seeking a stay on the high court's order, the law officer said that offenders "flee from the country" to avoid the process of law and moreover, such liberty granted to accused would set a bad precedent.
He also said that there are judgements which said that even an accused absconded inside the country, he cannot be granted liberty to appear through lawyers only.
The top court then stayed the high court's May 31 order which sad that Aditya Talwar "may personally or through his counsel appear before the (trial) court till the next date."
The ED has said that investigation has revealed that the "bilateral meetings held between India and UAE/Qatar resulted in a wrongful loss to Air India and substantial gain to the airlines of UAE/Qatar."
"The undue traffic rights were accorded despite contrary views from the Indian carrier and DGCA such as increase in seat entitlements to both the contracting states.
There was an increase in points of call for foreign carriers causing adverse loss to the Indian carrier, it said, adding that "the Indian carrier could not utilize its seat entitlement to the optimum capacity."
"Foreign carriers were exercising the benefit of 6th freedom traffic," the probe agency said.
The investigation has revealed that Deepak Talwar, father of Aditya, enjoyed close proximity to various public servants and using his contacts, obtained undue benefits for the foreign private airlines, it said.
In lieu of the same, kickbacks were paid to him, which payments continued to flow and integrate into the system till 2014 as per the investigation conducted till date, it said.
ED said Adiyta has refused to join the investigation on the ground that "a foreign citizen" cannot be called upon to appear before an "Indian law authority".
After the issuance of arrest warrants, Aditya Talwar approached the high court without submitting himself to the Indian Jurisdiction, it said, adding that the trial court cancelled the warrants without the appearance of the accused.