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CBI Files Closure In Air India Case Against Praful Patel

CBI Files Closure In Air India Case Against Praful Patel

Eight months after NCP leader Praful Patel joined the NDA, the CBI filed a closure report in the Air India Indian Airlines merger case. Praful Patel, who served as Union Civil Aviation Minister during the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, was a key suspect in the case and had been questioned by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED).

In May 2019, the ED highlighted Patel’s association with middleman Deepak Talwar, who allegedly facilitated the dispersal of profit-making Air India routes to private airlines. The CBI closure report was submitted on March 19 in the court of Special Judge (CBI), Rouse Avenue Court, Prashant Kumar. The court is set to review the CBI submission on April 15.

Last June, Patel attended an Opposition bloc meeting in Patna with NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. However, the following month, Patel, along with Ajit Pawar and six other leaders, including Chhagan Bhujbal, exited the party and joined the NDA. Ajit Pawar’s faction of the NCP is now part of the Eknath Shinde government in Maharashtra, with Ajit Pawar serving as Deputy CM.

The case revolves around the merger to form National Aviation Corporation of India Ltd (NACIL). It includes allegations related to leasing a high number of aircraft, purchasing 111 aircraft from Airbus
and Boeing, corruption in route allocations, and Patel’s alleged ties with lobbyist Deepak Talwar.

The CBI registered four FIRs in May 2017 following a Supreme Court order to address these issues. The closure report has been filed in the first FIR, while investigations in other cases continue.

The first FIR implicates “unknown officials of the Ministry of Civil Aviation” and mentions Patel’s name. It alleges that decisions regarding leasing aircraft were made dishonestly, resulting in financial benefits to private companies and losses to the government exchequer.

Patel has consistently denied the allegations, asserting that decisions were made collectively. The FIR highlights leasing a large number of aircraft despite low load factors and significant losses incurred by the airlines.

The recent closure report filed by the CBI in the merger case, specifically related to the first FIR, potentially signals a significant turn in the legal proceedings. If accepted, it could pave the way for the exoneration of NCP leader Praful Patel and cast doubts on the validity of the other three FIRs and the existing chargesheet in the case.

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The first FIR alleges several instances of wrongdoing, including the leasing of at least 15 expensive aircraft without adequate operational requirements, leading to losses for NACIL and purportedly favouring private parties.

It also highlights decisions made by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in 2006 regarding the dry and wet lease of aircraft, allegedly without proper study or marketing strategy.

In a dry lease, the lessor provides the aircraft but no crew; in a wet lease, the lessor provides the aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance. The lessee is responsible for all operational aspects of a dry lease. Wet leasing is usually used for short-term leases, while dry leasing is more common for longer-term leases.

The FIR mentions instances where Boeing 777s were leased despite the imminent delivery of Air India’s aircraft, resulting in significant financial losses.

The closure of this FIR could potentially undermine the other ongoing investigations and legal actions against Patel. Both the CBI and the ED had filed chargesheets in another FIR related to Deepak Talwar’s

Additionally, Patel faces scrutiny from the ED in connection with a money laundering case involving underworld figure Iqbal Mirchi. Allegations suggest Patel acquired properties from Mirchi, including constructing a building named Ceejay House in Worli. Patel has consistently denied any wrongdoing in this matter as well.

More significantly, the closure report comes after Patel aligned with the BJP. He joined a long list of opposition leaders, including Deputy CM Ajit Pawar and NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal, who, once switched sides and joined the BJP or NDA, had their corruption cases closed or no further enquiries took place.

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