Former Indian minister P Chidambaram has been summoned for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the purchase of 111 aircraft for Air India during the Congress-led UPA government, sources said.
The deal, made more than a decade ago, saddled the struggling national carrier with mounting losses, investigative agencies said.
The case involves the purchase of 48 aircraft from Airbus and 68 from Boeing for around 70,000 crore in 2007.
The former minister has refused to comment on the issue.
The questioning has been slated for August 23, based on then aviation minister Praful Patel’s claim that the purchase order was cleared by an Empowered Group of Ministers headed by Mr Chidambaram.
In an earlier interview to NDTV, the NCP leader said: “All decisions were multi-tiered and collective. The aircraft purchase order was cleared by an EGOM headed by P Chidambaram and the merger was cleared by an EGOM (group of ministers) headed by Pranab Mukherjee. Both decisions were ratified by the cabinet.”
In December 2005, the Manmohan Singh cabinet had approved the deal for 68 aircraft from Boeing Co by Air India. A year later, Indian Airlines signed up to buy 43 planes from Airbus SE.
The two national carriers were later merged in 2007 to operate under the brand Air India – that too is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
In May 2017, following an order from the Supreme Court, the CBI registered three cases and a preliminary inquiry into the alleged irregularities.
The agency is investigating allegations of aircraft being leased “without due consideration” and whether Air India surrendered profitable routes to private national and international private airlines, allegedly adding to its vast losses.
The Enforcement Directorate is taking cognisance of the CBI’s First Information Report (FIR) that is about the money laundering allegations in the cases. The agency has also arrested Deepak Talwar, a corporate lobbyist, on allegation of securing profitable air traffic rights to three international airlines using his proximity with Praful Patel. The agency has filed a chargesheet on it.