Air Asia India probe: Tata Trusts backs Venkataramanan

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New Delhi: Tata Trusts today came out in support of its managing trustee R Venkataramanan, who is under investigation by the CBI for allegedly trying to manipulate government policies through corrupt means to get international licence for AirAsia India.

A combined meeting of the trustees of Tata Trusts was held this afternoon and “reaffirmed their complete trust and continued support to Venkataramanan under whose executive leadership as Managing Trustee, the Tata Trusts have done, and are continuing to do, outstanding work across India.”

In a statement, Tata Trusts said its trustees also expressed concern over “inaccurate and mischievous reports” giving an impression that its offices were raided by investigating authorities, “which did not take place”.

The office of Venkataramanan, in his capacity as a Non-Executive Director and a nominee of Tata Sons on the Board of Air Asia India Limited, in the Trust office premises, was visited by the authorities and clarifications sought on some papers relating to Air Asia India, some of which were taken by the authorities, Tata Trusts said.

“The trustees categorically reiterated that the reported investigations have nothing whatsoever to do with the affairs of any of the Tata Trusts and noted that papers and documents relating to the Trusts were neither seen nor called for by the investigators,” the statement said.

Tata Sons holds 49 per cent in Air Asia India Ltd.

Last month, the CBI had registered a case against AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes, Venkataramanan and other officials for allegedly trying to manipulate government policies through corrupt means to get international licence.

The investigating agency has alleged that Venkataramanan was lobbying in the government to secure mandatory approvals, some of them through “non-transparent means”, including the then Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance, no-objection certificate and the attempt for removal or modification of 5/20 rule.

The norm — which required local airlines to be in operation for at least five years and a minimum fleet of 20 planes in order to start overseas operations — was done away with in 2016. Now, only the fleet requirement of 20 aircraft is in force, making it easier for new players such as AirAsia India and Vistara to commence international flights.

Venkataramanan had, however, denied the allegations saying he was wrongly named as an accused in case as he had “little or no role to play” as a non-executive director at the airline, even as he blamed “revenge legal action” by former Tata Group chief Cyrus Mistry for the accusations.

“In my capacity as non-executive director of Air Asia India Limited, I have been wrongly named as an accused by the CBI on operational matters where I had little or no role to play,” he had said in a statement.

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