//Air Deccan founder gets caught in the Mallya maelstrom

Air Deccan founder gets caught in the Mallya maelstrom

NEW DELHI:
GR Gopinath, founder of Deccan Aviation Ltd (DAL), is under the scanner of investigative agencies for his alleged role in the debt default by fugitive economic offender Vijay Mallya-founded Kingfisher Airlines, said people with knowledge of the matter. They are examining Gopinath’s part in signing the “instruments” through which the “diversion” of loans from State Bank of India was allegedly caused, they said.

Gopinath didn’t respond to queries and multiple attempts to reach him for comment.

He is also said to be on the CBI’s radar for “diversion of funds” through Axis Bank accounts. Gopinath was a Kingfisher Airlines director when the said loans were disbursed. He joined the board after selling Air Deccan to Mallya in 2007.

The agency is examining Gopinath with regard to a loan of Rs 340 crore sanctioned by SBI to Deccan Aviation. Gopinath had signed the instruments of diversion, as per the investigation. He was the authorised signatory for DAL. A payment of Rs 30 crore by Kingfisher Airlines to Gopinath in February 2008 is also being examined. That coincided with the release of Rs 29.96 crore by SBI to Kingfisher Airlines on February 1, 2008, said the people cited above.

The Serious Fraud Investigation Office, had in a 2017 report, raised questions over payment of Rs 30 crore in “non-compete fee” to Gopinath without disclosing it to stakeholders or the high court. SFIO had reportedly recommended to the corporate affairs ministry that several people directly involved in the transaction be charged with offences such as criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery.

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CORPORATE ETHICS COMPROMISED: SFIO

The SFIO report, seen by the CBI, said corporate ethics had been compromised in the deal between Kingfisher Airlines and Deccan. Gopinath had defended himself by arguing that he was a minority shareholder in Deccan Aviation.

The agencies are of the view that the arguments advanced against Mallya are also applicable to Gopinath, said the people cited above. They have found no merit in Mallya’s defence that Kingfisher was nothing but a “business failure”. Loans were taken with no intention of repaying them, they said.

The CBI is said to have zeroed in on a number of suspects that include, apart from Mallya, top Kingfisher Airlines executives, senior bank officials and a former Reserve Bank of India deputy governor. The agency is yet to decide who will be named as accused in a yet-to-be-filed chargesheet.

The UK home secretary last week approved the extradition of Mallya to India. Last month, the Enforcement Directorate gave its consent to a Mumbai court to liquidate Mallya’s assets by the consortium of 12 banks headed by SBI.

Mallya is wanted for questioning on money laundering, criminal conspiracy and fraud charges over defaults on loans to his Kingfisher Airlines, grounded since October 2012. The banks say he owes them more than Rs 9,000 crore.

Mallya has denied accusations of wrongdoing and said he wants to settle with the banks while fighting extradition proceedings on the grounds that he’s being victimised. A first information report (FIR) was registered against Mallya in August 2016 following a complaint by SBI, which had an exposure of Rs 1,600 crore. Other creditors include Punjab National Bank and IDBI Bank (Rs 800 crore each), Bank of India (Rs 650 crore), Bank of Baroda (Rs 550 crore) and Central Bank of India (Rs 410 crore).

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