New Delhi: Staff in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) during the tenure of PV Narasimha Rao are credited with the reforms that saved the Indian economy from the brink of collapsing in the 1990s. However, one top officer close to then prime minister chose to transform the career of a liaison man in Lutyens' Delhi, who was struggling to break into the big leagues.
The man, Deepak Talwar, is now in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) till 12 February, being confronted with voluminous documents linking him top politicians and businessmen. He is believed to have links with fugitive Vijay Mallya in a money laundering case.
Officials alleged that since his struggling days in the early 1990s, Talwar had ventured into suspicious deals through Deepak Talwar & Associates with the help of his proximity to the officer in Rao's PMO.
"He is a secret keeper of Lutyens' Delhi, having close links with senior officers of ministries and political leaders. He came under the scanner sometime in 1997 when two of his firms, DTA Consultants Private Limited and Integral PR Services Private Limited, were found to be involved in corrupt practices. Later, agencies flagged his alleged dealings in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, but somehow, he managed to outwit investigators," officials said.
The most important part of the investigation, officials claimed, is his links with two top Opposition leaders who served as ministers during the UPA regime and his alleged role in the Air India case. Three of Talwar's companies that are under investigation are Asia Field, Wave Impex and Wave Hospitality. Investigators alleged that Talwar and his family members also own offshore companies, including Gilt Asset Management and Asia Pacific Resources Corporation. The ED has alleged that he routed huge amounts of money received from foreign airlines through a front company.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is looking into the Air India case, in which it is alleged that a conspiracy was hatched to make the national carrier give up profit-making routes and flight timings to domestic and international private airlines, leading to huge losses in its market share. Talwar is being investigated for his suspected role in irregular seat-sharing that ultimately benefited Air Arabia, Emirates and Qatar Airways. Foreign airlines were allegedly given unrestricted entry into India, and major routes were given to them without Air India getting any reciprocal benefits. Despite warnings that the national carrier would lose a significant chunk of the market share because of these actions, the primary suspects — public servants and private individuals — continued to act dishonestly to confer pecuniary advantage to private airlines. These decisions allowed private airlines to enjoy profits from busy routes and a bigger market share than Air India, which has a social responsibility to operate at even non-viable, non-profit-making routes.
"It has been alleged that through his consultancy firm, Talwar worked closely with these foreign airlines and was able to secure them favorable deals from government officials. Whether he played a major role in influencing decisions made during the UPA regime is matter of further investigation, and he will be surely grilled along those lines.
Officials said that the purchase of new aircraft as part of the expansion plan of the erstwhile Indian Airlines and subsequent donations to his NGO by aviation and defence firms is another case that he will be questioned about.
In November 2017, the CBI had registered a case against Talwar, his NGO and others for allegedly violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Talwar's NGO, Advantage India, as a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative, had received huge sums in donations from Airbus, the European leader in aeronautics engineering, and MBDA, the leading missile manufacturing company in the defence industry. In May 2012, Advantage India had entered into an agreement wherein Airbus had agreed to provide a donation of 9 million euros. A similar agreement was executed with England-based MBDA for 6 million euros. In August 2017, the Ministry of Home Affairs had written to the CBI flagging irregularities committed by Talwar's NGO and had sought a detailed investigation.
Between 2012 and 2015, Advantage India had received total foreign contribution amounting to over Rs 90 crore. The home ministry had alleged that the NGO had fabricated medical bills to the tune of Rs 26.97 crore in connection with various health camps. The two pharma entities — Aastha Pharma and Hind Pharma — from where medicines were allegedly purchased had later denied any association with Talwar's NGO.
"On inquiries, both firms categorically stated in their letters dated 11 May, 2017, and 28 April, 2017, that they had not dealt with the association. The bills and vouchers furnished by the NGO related to the two pharmaceutical firms were found to be fictitious and bogus.
Moreover, independent inquiries made by the Income Tax Department with regard to these companies revealed that there were no such concerns at the given addresses, and the amounts these firms received from Advantage India were routed through many bank accounts, which, prima facie, were found to be bogus, home ministry had said.
Sources said they are also looking into whether Talwar was able to help open lucrative businesses such as duty-free shops, convenience stores and F&B outlets at airports due to his close proximity with bureaucrats and political leaders in the aviation ministry during the UPA's tenure at the Centre.
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Updated Date: Feb 10, 2019 15:07:35 IST