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Congress era lobbying in the eye of the storm? USA starts investigating Airbus payment to lobbyist in India

The amount paid to an NGO by Airbus and MBDA was diverted to corporate lobbyist Deepak Talwar

In what could be another expose of a scam during the UPA government, the US Department of Justice is investigating suspected transactions by aircraft manufacturer Airbus in various countries, including India, reports French publication Le Monde. Parallelly, CBI is also reportedly investigating mysterious payments to an NGO named Advantage India by Airbus and missile maker MBDA. The NGO is owned by Deepak Talwar, a corporate lobbyist. It may be noted that Airbus is a shareholder in MBDA.

According to allegations, France based Airbus SAS and UK-based MBDA had paid around ₹90.72 crore to Advantage India for education and health care-related activities. In 2010, Advantage received ₹45 crore from Airbus, while in 2012-13 the NGO was paid ₹20.9 crore by Airbus and ₹13.7 crore by MBDA, in violation of FCRA rules. When the accounts of the NGO were investigated by the Income Tax department, it was revealed the amount was not used in any healthcare or education activities. Instead, the fund was diverted to accounts belonging to Deepak Talwar and his family members.

Talwar is known for his proximity to politicians, journalists, bureaucrats etc, including Praful Patel. Patel was the aviation minister in UPA government and during his term, the Air India had taken the controversial decision to purchase 111 aircraft, which included 43 aircraft from Airbus. Talwar is also under investigation for meeting the CBI director Ranjit Sinha about 63 times in 2014 at Sinha’s official residence. His name had appeared in Nira Radia tapes too.

Deepak Talwar is already under investigation in India for his role in several aviation contracts. He is at present wanted by Indian authorities, who lives in Dubai at present. Last year, UAE had barred him from leaving the country, after it was revealed that he was being probed by Income Tax authorities in India.

Advantage India says it used the fund to buy mobile medical units, medical equipment, medicines, ambulances and to recruit doctors, but agencies say many bills are suspected to be fake. They could not find any record of patients being treated by the NGO. Why the aircraft manufacturer paid such a huge sum to the NGO has raised serious questions.

Airbus is suspected to have made illegal payments in many countries, which DoJ is probing since 2017, but it was revealed recently. Airbus is also under investigation by National Financial Office (PNF) in France and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in Great Britain for irregular transactions. The two agencies are investigating the company for the presence of middleman in negotiating several large contracts in various countries, including India. According to Le Monde, DoJ has requested information from PNF and SFO that could fall under the jurisdiction of the United States.

After the publication of the report by the French media house, Airbus issued a statement saying that “it is well known that Airbus is the subject of a public inquiry and is therefore not able to comment in any form on current procedures”, confirming that it is under investigation by DoJ. The Company also said it is cooperating with DoJ in the investigations, along with PNF and SFO.

It can be noted the AgustaWestland scam had surfaced after Italian authorities had probed the company for paying bribes to receive the contract in India. After which, the Indian government started probing the case. The probe by DoJ along with UK and France investigators may have a similar effect if the charges are proved.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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