Indian media were abuzz the past week with stories that India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had filed a case against AirAsia Group Bhd, the airline’s CEO Tony Fernandes and its domestic entity AirAsia India, over allegations of corruption and breaking rules in obtaining a flying license.
The CBI accused the airline, some of its employees and third parties of violating India’s foreign direct investment rules while obtaining the licence, and of bribing government officials in an
attempt to get regulations relaxed to allow AirAsia India to fly international routes.
Fernandes remains tight-lipped
The charges have meanwhile been denied by AirAsia India, which said in a statement that it refuted any allegations of wrongdoing and was co-operating with all regulators and agencies “to present the correct facts.” The parent group, AirAsia, and Fernandes himself did not respond to emails seeking comment.
The Malaysian low-cost carrier launched domestic flight operations in India in 2014 along with local joint venture partner Tata Sons, Reuters reported.
At the time, India’s aviation rules required AirAsia India to operate in the domestic market for a period of five years and have a fleet of 20 aircraft before it was allowed to fly international routes. India in 2017 relaxed the rules by abolishing the five-year clause.
Under pressure in Malaysia as well
According to the complaint, Fernandes wanted the airline’s Indian operation to be able to fly internationally from day one. The complaint listed five other individuals and a Singapore-based company, along with unidentified government officials.
AirAsia said in January it was considering an IPO of the Indian operation, which had 14 planes at the end of 2017 with plans to grow to 60 aircraft over the next five years.
Last month, Fernandes faced another investigation in Malaysia in a dispute with the country’s regulator, the Malaysian Aviation Committee, over the cancellation of 120 flights during the general election period earlier in May.
Apologising for what he described as a "foolish election stunt," Fernandes said he buckled under pressure from former PM Najib’s government and even painted a plane in the ruling party’s colours to try to appease officials. However, Najib's coalition, which had ruled Malaysia for 61 years, suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of an opposition alliance led by his former mentor and ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad,
Nol van Fenema