CBI Files Closure In AI-IA Merger Probe 8 Months After Praful Patel Joins NDA

New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed a closure report in the Air India-Indian Airlines merger case.

This comes eight months after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Praful Patel, along with Ajit Pawar and other party leaders, joined the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Patel, who was the Union Civil Aviation Minister during the merger of Air India- Indian Airlines, was among the key suspects in the case and was questioned by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The CBI filed the closure report in the court of Special Judge (CBI), Rouse Avenue Court, Prashant Kumar, on March 19. The court has scheduled April 15 for considering the CBI submission.

In May 2019, the ED informed a special court that “Mr. Praful Patel is a dear friend” of middleman Deepak Talwar, who purportedly facilitated dispersal of the profitable Air India routes to private airlines during 2008-09 using his “proximity to the minister and aviation personnel in India”.

In June 2023, Patel, alongside NCP supremo Sharad Pawar attended a meeting of the Opposition bloc in Patna. However, the following month, he walked out of the party with Ajit Pawar and six other leaders, including Chhagan Bhujbal, to join the NDA.
The Ajit Pawar faction of the NCP is currently part of the Maharashtra government led by Eknath Shinde, with Ajit Pawar serving as Deputy Chief Minister.

The case involves the merger of AI and IA to form the National Aviation Corporation of India Ltd (NACIL), which leased a large number of aircraft and purchased 111 aircraft from Airbus and Boeing. Additionally, it encompasses allegations related to the allocation of profitable routes to foreign airlines, corruption in the opening of training institutes with foreign investment, and Patel’s alleged connections with lobbyist Deepak Talwar, who was deported from Dubai in January 2019 and subsequently arrested by the ED.

To investigate these matters, the CBI registered four FIRs in May 2017 following a Supreme Court order issued in January 2017. The closure report has been filed in the first FIR registered, while investigations in the remaining cases still continues.

Patel is also facing scrutiny by the ED in connection with a money laundering case involving underworld figure Iqbal Mirchi. The former union minister was interrogated by the central agency in 2019 and 2021 regarding the case. he allegedly purchased properties from Mirchi, on which a building named Ceejay House was constructed in Worli. Patel has refuted any wrongdoing.

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