Agencies suspect Jet owners siphoned Rs 8k cr via bogus bills

By: Jaikishan Yadav

MUMBAI: Probe agencies investigating books of defunct Jet Airways suspect that entities related to its founder Naresh Goyal and his associates used thousands of bogus bills to launder some Rs 8,000 crore from the airline into tax havens, people aware of probe details alleged.

Investigators specifically probing the role of Goyal in alleged irregularities at what was once the country’s largest airline are looking into more than 5,000 bills raised by operation creditors, including aircraft lessors, maintenance agencies and general sales agents (GSAs). They suspect most were bogus and raised through entities related to Goyal or associates, sources told ET.

Investigation has also revealed that some suspected companies and directors have been named in the Offshore Leaks report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) disclosing details of about 130,000 offshore accounts, sources claimed.

“With the company now under insolvency proceeding, former employees who were handling the finances of the company have quit long back. Therefore, information on the genuineness of the transactions are not available,” an official said. “Probe has revealed that most of these dues are bogus and the contracts entered were fictitious.”

More than 50% of the 4,575 GSAs that sought ticket refunds were found to be bogus entities created to evade taxes, and sleuths suspect all that money was subsequently laundered into accounts held by Goyal and his associates, sources said.

In the case of aircraft lessors that raised claims, more than 90% are based in Ireland, share a common office address, and have a crisscross pool of directors and company secretaries, sources claimed.

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According to a disclosure made by Jet Airways, as on October 20 this year out of the total claims of Rs 14,128 crore raised by 69 aircraft lessors, the company admitted claims of only Rs 1,572 crore. It rejected 73% of the bills raised totalling Rs 10,394 crore as per the disclosure reviewed by ET.

One lessor, SMBC Aviation Capital Ltd that claimed dues of ?2,621 crore from Jet, has been mentioned in the Paradise Papers released by ICIJ, sources said. The company is enlisted as a shareholder of SMBC Aviation Capital GAL Holdings Ltd and Barrett Peter John is its president and director, according to ICIJ’s offshore database. Bermudabased offshore legal services provider Appleby Services (Bermuda) Ltd is listed as the intermediary.

At least three agencies — the income-tax department, Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) — are probing Jet Airways for alleged irregularities. While IT is probing alleged tax evasion, SFIO is looking into the affairs of the company and ED is probing allegations of money laundering. ED has confronted Goyal with documents related to 19 privately held companies, of which 14 are registered in India and five abroad, people cited earlier said.

ED has also gathered details of the offshore entities with which Jet and its group companies entered into lease, maintenance and GSA agreements, on the basis of information shared by Toronto-based Egmont Group, an international network of 164 financial intelligence units formed to combat money laundering and terror financing, they said.

The agency has questioned Goyal on this information, too. “However, Goyal is always evasive with his replies,” one official said. Goyal refused to speak to ET when approached outside ED office earlier this week.

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The I-T department, meanwhile, plans to approach Ireland to seek information on entities based there under Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA), sources said.



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