India's federal police Tuesday raided local offices of budget carrier AirAsia as investigators accused the airline's boss Tony Fernandes of illegally obtaining operating licences.
The Central Bureau of Investigation said it was probing allegations that Fernandes illicitly lobbied Indian officials for favourable treatment of licences for his Malaysian-based carrier.
‘We have filed a case against Air Asia chief Tony Fernandes, his colleagues and government officers over procuring licences illegally,’ CBI official R.K. Gaur told AFP.
Officers raided AirAsia offices in major Indian cities as part of its investigation, he added.
AirAsia denied any wrongdoing and is working with ‘all regulators and agencies to present the correct facts,’ Shuva Mandal, director of AirAsia's Indian subsidiary, said in a statement shared with the media.
Fernandes was accused by investigators of campaigning to have aviation regulations relaxed in his favour, Press Trust of India news agency reported.
One of these was the so-called 5/20 rule stipulating that companies must have five years of domestic experience and a fleet of 20 aircraft before being eligible to operate abroad.
Besides Fernandes, investigators also named an AirAsia director, an aviation consultant and unidentified Indian government officials in its preliminary case, PTI reported.
AirAsia and its local joint venture partner Tata Sons launched domestic flight operations in India in 2014 by offering eye-catching promotional fares to lure budget travellers.
Fernandes, a millionaire ex-music executive, has styled himself as Asia's answer to British tycoon Richard Branson.
The company ran into trouble this month when Air Asia India's CEO Amar Abrol stepped down, citing personal reasons.
The no-frills airline currently operates flights from its bases in Bengaluru and Delhi to several cities including Goa, Jaipur and Kochi.
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