A Delhi court on Thursday allowed Enforcement Directorate to quiz in custody for seven days the alleged lobbyist Deepak Talwar, after ED alleged that he acted as middleman in negotiations to favour foreign private airlines causing the loss to national carrier Air India.
ED told the court that by interrogating Talwar it has to find out the names of officials of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, National Aviation Company of India Ltd and Air India, who favoured foreign airlines, including Qatar Airways, Emirates and Air Arabia, by making national carrier, gave up profit making routes and profit making timings.
"It has been alleged that officials of Ministry of Civil Aviation, NACIL, Air India, by abusing their official positions as public servants and receiving illegal gratification, in conspiracy with other public servants, private domestic and foreign airlines, made the national carrier gave up profit making routes and profit making timings of Air India in favour of national and international domestic and foreign private airlines.
"This resulted in a huge loss of market share to the national carrier and also led to pecuniary benefits to private domestic and foreign airlines," the ED told Special Judge Santosh Snehi Mann.
ED's Special Public Prosecutors D P Singh and Nitesh Rana told the court that India held bilateral meetings with Dubai, Sharjah and Qatar after which there has been an increase in the seat entitlements for both the contracting countries and increase in points of call for foreign carriers.
The submission was opposed by Talwar's advocate Tanveer Ahmad Mir, who said that the ED had no case and that no other step was taken by the probe agency to unearth the alleged conspiracy.
He also told the court that his client was a heart patient and was suffering from other ailments.
While seeking Talwar's 14-day custody, the ED said the foreign carriers obtained more points of call each time, causing loss to Air India.
It further said that the Indian carrier could not utilize its seat entitlement in the optimum capacity and despite a number of seats having been left unutilised, after every bilateral, seats were increased to benefit the foreign Airlines.
"The foreign carriers have been given more points of call whereas Indian carrier has only one. Further, the foreign airlines were exercising the benefits of 6th freedom traffic. It means they were carrying the traffics of the countries other than their own," it said.
The investigation in the instant case has revealed the role of the the accused that he acted as a middleman in these negotiations.
"In lieu of the above, entities directly or indirectly controlled by the accused have received exorbitant amounts from Qatar Airways, Emirates and Air Arabia," ED said, submitting a chart of total USD 60.54 million received by the firms directly or indirectly owned by Talwar between April 23, 2008 to February 6, 2009.
The ED told the court that Talwar was a "habitual offender" and was an accused in various other cases.
"The custodial interrogation of the accused is imperative to ascertain his role in the association with the bilateral air services talks and the inroads made by him to influence the decisions. The custody of the accused is required to ascertain the role of other key accused persons involved in the commission of the offence and the modus operandi adopted by the accused persons," it said in an application moved by advocate A R Aditya.
He has been charged with criminal conspiracy, forgery and under various other sections of the FCRA for allegedly diverting Rs 90.72 crore worth of foreign funds meant for ambulances and other articles received by his NGO from Europe's leading missile manufacturing company.
His role in some aviation deals during the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) regime at the Centre is under scanner as well.
Talwar was booked by the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in criminal cases of corruption, while the Income Tax Department charged him with tax evasion.