The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CBI slaps lease case on Air-India chief

New Delhi, Feb. 4: The CBI yesterday registered a case against Air-India managing director J.N. Gogoi and 13 other accused for allegedly bungling the Caribjet deal to the extent of Rs 100 crore.

Air-India had entered into a deal with Caribjet Inc, a company registered in the Caribbean Islands, in 1994 and 1996 to buy seven aircraft on wet lease for two years.

The CBI’s anti-corruption branch of Mumbai started investigations in 2000 after registering a preliminary inquiry report.

The other prime accused in this case include former managing directors Michael Mascarenhas and Brijesh Kumar, and commercial manager (northern India) Captain A.K. Mathur.

The accused have been charged under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code and various provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Gogoi, who was given an extension of six months as managing director on February 1, told a news agency in Mumbai that “I was in no way involved in any selection or suggestion of the Caribjet deal”.

Gogoi was given the extension by the Cabinet Committee on Appointments with the clause attached that he should get vigilance clearance.

Yesterday, chief vigilance commissioner for civil aviation Raghu Menon wrote to the chief vigilance commissioner, seeking the status of the cases against Gogoi.

The civil aviation ministry has written to the CBI to confirm whether a case has been registered against Gogoi and others in the Caribjet deal.

With the case registered, it is likely that Gogoi would face the axe because service rules demand that an officer be removed from his post to allow a free and fair investigation, a government officer said.

The registration of the case has triggered a power struggle among senior officers in the civil aviation ministry. Some of them are trying to upstage the others in a bid to grab power. A joint secretary in the ministry is tipped as one of the contenders for the top job.

The CBI had alleged that the government lost Rs 103 crore after Air-India paid damages when Caribjet dragged the carrier into arbitration in London in 1997.

Investigations revealed that the accused allegedly siphoned off Rs 3.35 crore when Air-India struck the first deal with Caribjet in 1994. Kumar was the managing director then, sources said.

The CBI questioned the absence of the crucial “termination clause”, a safeguard for every buyer for any unsatisfactory performance, from the contract. The CBI alleged that the conspicuous absence was a virtual surrender by Air-India to Caribjet.

Michael Mascarenhas had figured in another controversy for allegedly giving undue incentives to a private tour operator in London. The CBI absolved him of the charges after an inquiry. He was reinstated as managing-director on November 28, 2001, two days before he retired.

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