India’s Enforcement Directorate on Friday questioned P. Chidambaram, the longest serving finance minister under the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, over the alleged aviation scam deal and purchase case of Airbus and Boeing planes for Air India.
The questioning lasted six hours and his statement was recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
According to the sources in the agency, Chidambaram was leading the decision-making group of lawmakers for the purchase deals.
“It was necessary to talk to grill and question him as to know the decision-making process undertaken by the government during the deal", said a senior agency officer.
The agency's investigation pertains to the losses suffered by the airlines due to the scam and irregularities in fixing air slots for international airlines which allegedly benefitted the foreign private airlines.
The Enforcement Directorate probe in this case also relates to the purchase of 111 aircraft in 2006, costing about $105 billion (Rs. 70,000 crore), for the national airline.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had in 2011 questioned the rationale behind the government's decision to order the airplanes. However, it was found that the original decision was to buy 28 plans.
In 2006, domestic carrier Indian Airlines was allowed to buy 43 aircraft from Netherlands-based Airbus SE, while 68 were purchased from US-based Boeing. Both Air India and Indian Airlines were merged in 2007 to operate under the single brand Air India.
The Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had approved the deal.
The alleged multi-million-dollar aviation scam also involved suspected irregularities in fixing air slots for international airlines at airports across India.
The Directorate of Enforcement has already questioned former Aviation Minister Praful Patel (2004-2009) of the UPA government in connection with the case.
Patel, who was the civil aviation minister at the time of the purchases, had earlier told the country’s apex probe body, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), that all the decisions were collectively taken. He said the aircraft purchase order was cleared by a Chidambaram-led Empowered Group of Ministers.