Mumbai airport scam: Delhi HC allows MD of pvt firm to appear before CBI via video-conferencing

The Delhi high court (HC) on Wednesday allowed the managing director (MD) of a private firm, a co-accused in the alleged irregularities worth Rs 705 crore in the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) project, to appear before a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe via a video-conference.

The concept of a video-conference for a CBI probe is a first that appears to have been allowed following the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, which had led to nationwide lockdown restrictions from March 25 for over 60 days.

Officials familiar with the agency’s procedure said the CBI doesn’t allow questioning of the accused through a video-conference. This is an exception to the established norm, they added.

Justice Vibhu Bakhru allowed the plea of the accused Sartaj Ali (67), the MD of Nice Projects Limited, after CBI agreed that he would not be required to travel outside Delhi and the probe agency’s officials would examine him either through a video-conference or at his residence in person in the national capital.

Advocate Vijay Aggarwal argued that Ali, a senior citizen, is suffering from multiple ailments and he could be allowed to join the probe from his residence amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

The advocate pleaded before the court that Ali is susceptible to contract SARS-CoV-2, which causes the viral disease, and, if, he could be exempted from travelling to Mumbai, as the journey would include transit at airports and also a stay in the city that has emerged as one of the epicentres of the viral outbreaks in the country.

CBI acceded to the plea and agreed that Ali could be cross-examined through a video-conference.

It is alleged that Rs 705 crore was siphoned off from the funds of MIAL, a joint venture (JV) under public-private partnership (PPP) between the GVK Airport Holdings Limited and the Airports Authority of India (AAI), besides other investors, by showing inflated expenditures, under-reporting of revenues, fudging of records, among others.

CBI had registered a case and conducted raids at the offices of the GVK Group in Mumbai and Hyderabad in July.

CBI had alleged that the group’s promoters also embezzled funds by inflating MIAL expenditures.

MIAL had issued a statement in July to clear the air.

“MIAL is surprised to note the registration of a case by CBI against MIAL and others. MIAL would have provided every assistance, had the agency sought explanation or any document even if a preliminary probe had been initiated. MIAL is a transparent and responsible corporate entity, which is committed to cooperating with the agency in its investigation to arrive at the truth,” the statement had said.

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