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ED questions AirAsia CFO over alleged forex violation case

Enforcement Directorate (ED) has questioned AirAsia India’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in Mumbai in connection with an alleged forex violation case. ED is probing ousted Tata Group Chairman Cyrus Mistry’s allegation that fraudulent transactions of Rs 22 crore, involving non-existent entities in India and Singapore, were carried out in an instance involving the airlines.

Officials said the CFO, Ankur Khanna, was questioned by the investigating officer of the case earlier in the week and his statement was recorded under the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). There was no immediate comment from AirAsia India spokesperson. ED had earlier issued summons to the airline and its officials to submit relevant documents and explain the matter to investigators as part of the probe. They added that the CFO could be called for questioning again apart from few other executives. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) probe is also looking at a specific transaction of Rs 12 crore, out of Rs 22 crore, made to a Singaporean firm. ED officials said the agency is also examining the documents and findings of an in-house forensic investigation, as claimed by Mistry. In October, flagging “ethical concerns” in Tata Group’s joint venture with Air Asia, Mistry had claimed a forensic investigation had revealed fraudulent transactions of Rs 22 crore involving non-existent entities in India and Singapore.

As a bitter war plays out between Mistry and Tata Group’s interim Chairman Ratan Tata, the former had alleged that due to the latter’s passion for aviation, the Tata Sons Board increased capital infusion into the aviation sector at multiple levels of the initial commitment. In a letter written to the Board members of Tata Sons a day after he was ousted on October 24, Mistry said, “Board members and trustees are also aware that in the case of Air Asia, ethical concerns have been raised with respect to certain transactions as well as overall prevailing culture within the organisation.

“A recent forensic investigation revealed fraudulent transactions of Rs 22 crore involving non-existent parties in India and Singapore.” Mistry went on to allege that “executive trustee Mr Venkataraman, who is on the board of Air Asia and also a shareholder in the company, considered these transactions as non-material and did not encourage further study”. It was only at the insistence of the independent directors, one of whom immediately submitted his resignation, that the board decided to belatedly file a FIR, Mistry had said in the letter.

He claimed it was Tata who had completed negotiations with Air Asia, but early in his tenure as the Chairman of Tata Sons he (Mistry) was asked to table a proposal for the JV with Air Asia at a Tata Sons board meeting. In 2013, Tata Sons had joined hands with Malaysian carrier AirAsia and Arun Bhatia’s Telestra Tradeplace to start low cost carrier AirAsia India. The carrier had to wait for nine months before taking off. In September 2013, Tata Group had joined hands with Singapore Airlines to start a new full-service airline in India, 18 years after a failed attempt. Tata Sons owned 51% stake in the carrier, which has been christened as Vistara, with Singapore Airlines holding the rest.