AirAsia non-executive director says allegations baseless, blames Cyrus Mistry

AirAsia India is majority-owned by Tatas and Venkataramanan has around 1.5 per cent shareholding in joint venture with AirAsia Berhad.

New Delhi: Tata Trusts' R Venkataramanan on Wednesday said he has been wrongly named as an accused in the CBI case against AirAsia India 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.

The budget carrier is majority-owned by Tatas and Venkataramanan has around 1.5 per cent shareholding in the joint venture with AirAsia Berhad.

"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 said in a statement.

The CBI has 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.

"It is commonly known that the present accusations against Air Asia India find their root in baseless allegations made by Cyrus P Mistry and the Shapoor Pallonji Group against Tata Trusts Trustees (me included) and Tata Sons in his 'revenge' legal actions," the statement said.

Venkataramanan is also the managing trustee of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and is responsible for management and oversight of all the Tata Trusts, as per Tata Trusts website.

Emphasising that all allegations of wrongdoing or illegality against him are baseless, Venkataramanan said these motivated allegations are part of the smear campaign run to discredit him and the work being done by the Tata Trusts, which contribute Rs 1,200 crore each year to philanthropic activities.

"Despite, Cyrus Mistry and his company's efforts to discredit the Trusts, we resolve to enhance the quality of life of our people," he noted.

After a bitter fallout with Tata Sons and Ratan Tata, Cyrus Mistry was ousted as the group chairman in late 2016. After his ouster, Mistry had flagged various governance issues at the group, including alleged wrongdoings at AirAsia India.

Since then, Mistry and Tatas are locked in an acrimonious legal battle over various issues.

The CBI 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.

Referring to the emails purportedly written by him in the context of the issue of 5/20 norm in the aviation sector, Venkataramanan said this has been a much debated policy matter and that "Air Asia India was one of the many airlines that had formally sought a review of this policy".

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