ED may look into Chidambaram role in aviation scam

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is reportedly preparing to seek permission from the competent court to examine the former finance minister P Chidambaram in connection with a money laundering probe related to losses suffered by Air India as part of an alleged multi-crore aviation scam.

According to sources, since Chidambaram is in judicial custody in the INX Media case, the ED cannot examine him in a different case without taking permission from the competent court. “Prior to his (the former finance minister) arrest in the INX Media case, the ED had summoned Chidambaram for questioning in connection with aviation scam. But he could not be examined by the ED in this case as he was arrested by the CBI in the INX Media case. Now, the ED is preparing to seek permission from the trial court for his questioning in the aviation scam”, sources said.

The case pertains to the purchase of 48 aircraft from Airbus and 68 from Boeing for around `70,000 crore in 2007. In December 2005, the then 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.

The two national carriers were later merged in 2007 to operate under the brand Air India — that too is being probed by the ED and CBI. It is suspected that the contract to buy 43 aircraft from Airbus was finalised by a panel of ministers headed by P. Chidambaram in 2009. Former aviation minister Praful Patel was earlier grilled by the ED on three occasions in connection with the deal.

Sources said Chidambaram will be asked specific questions pertaining to the decision taken by the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) to purchase 111 aircraft. “The aircraft purchase order was reportedly cleared by an EGoM headed by P. Chidambaram and the merger was cleared by an EGoM (group of ministers) headed by another senior Cabinet member of the Manmohan Singh government. Both decisions were ratified by the Cabinet”, sources said. The then aviation minister Praful Patel had already claimed (during his recent questionings) that all decisions were multi-tiered and collective, sources claimed.

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