New Delhi: Jet Airways, which is fighting a battle for survival and is down to operating fewer than 20 of its aircraft daily, had a troubled beginning from the start, with Indian security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), raising questions on the funding that went into giving birth to the airline. In spite of that, Jet flourished and became the largest carrier by passenger market share in the country by 2010, a position it held until 2012 before reaching a situation where it is struggling to stay afloat.
In December 2001, the top brass of the Intelligence Bureau had told the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that it had found substantial evidence to prove that Jet Airways, which was launched in 1993, was being funded by suspicious individuals, including possibly India’s Most Wanted. However, the government decided to sit on the adverse report.
In April 2002, again a 30-page IB report was shared with the Lal Krishna Advani-led Ministry of Home Affairs and the Syed Shahnawaz Hussain-led Ministry of Civil Aviation, detailing the funding pattern of Jet Airways and why the IB believed that Jet Airways was being used as a tool to turn unaccounted for money into white. After going through the report, Hussain at the time had said that all options, including cancelling the licence of the airline, were on the table and the final call on the matter was in the hands of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
However, again the government decided to sleep on it. The Sunday Guardian spoke to two IB officers, who are now retired, but were involved in framing the report. Both of them confirmed that the report had given extensive information about the funding that went into Jet Airways.
Before the April 2002 report, in March 2000, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had written to the Ministry of Home Affairs, seeking security clearance for the directors of Jet Airways. The Ministry of Home Affairs did not give the security clearance until December 2003, as it had found reasons not to give a security clearance. However, as the later development suggests, the permission was given soon after that.
In December 2000, the Vajpayee government had told Parliament that the Directorate of Enforcement (ED) has received a complaint against Jet Airways and its chairman about alleged violations of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), after which an investigation was initiated. No one knows what happened to that ED probe.
Later, in August 2002, Government of India, while replying to a related question in the Lok Sabha, said: “The Inspection of books of accounts and other records of M/s Jet Airways (India) Pvt Ltd has been conducted under Section 209A of the Companies Act 1956. From the inspection report, it is revealed that director Shri Naresh Goyal holds 0.02% of the equity capital, and Tail Winds Ltd is holding the balance 99.98% of the equity capital. All the preference shares are held by International Finance Corporation, Washington. It is reported that the Tail Wind Ltd. is a company registered in Isle of Man, a British Dominion.”
The Sunday Guardian reached out to senior officials of the Intelligence Bureau, who are aware of the developments involving Jet Airways, and they said that they had evidence that proved that a highly placed executive in Jet Airways was in touch with Dawood Ibrahim. However, The Sunday Guardian cannot independently verify such assertions. A former IB officer told The Sunday Guardian: “Whatever we had gathered, we had shared with the government at the time and whatever we shared was accurate and it proved beyond doubt that those close to Dawood Ibrahim could be involved in Jet.”
The Sunday Guardian also reached out to senior members of the corporate communications of Jet Airways with queries related to this. However, the company did not share their response despite having 10 days to reply.
“Once Jet Airways managed to counter the initial issues, it faced no major problems. It got preferential treatment from the UPA government, which came to power in 2004, as a cursory look at the routes that it managed to get would suggest,” said the IB officer quoted earlier. No inquiry was conducted into this matter even after the NDA government took charge in 2014. Another senior intelligence officer alleged, “Those were the initial days of the opening of the civil aviation market in India and being a lucrative market for those who wanted to invest in the sector, bribes in cash and kind were very generously distributed by some of the companies to people who mattered.”