Report: India Launches Corruption Probe of Airline AirAsia

An AirAsia airplane taxis in 2009 in Toulouse, France. Photo: Laurent ERRERA / Wikimedia Commons

NEW DELHI — Indian investigators reportedly filed a corruption case Tuesday against the chief executive of regional budget airline AirAsia and some of his top deputies, saying the company paid bribes to get government approvals to launch its India operation.

Malaysia-based AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes, his deputy Bo Lingam and others were named in the complaint filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The report said most of the bribes were paid through a “sham contract” with a Singapore-based company. The complaint did not say which Indian officials were allegedly bribed.

AirAsia India Ltd, the Indian arm of the carrier, denied the allegations, with company official Shuva Mandal saying in a statement it is “cooperating with all regulators and agencies to present the correct facts.”

While investigators registered the case Tuesday, formal charges can only be ordered by a court.

India, with its rapidly growing middle class eager for flights, was a key business target for AirAsia, which dominates budget air travel in many Asian countries.

Fernandes has had a difficult few weeks. He has apologized for supporting former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose long-ruling coalition was ousted in May 9 elections. Fernandes said he bowed to government pressure and believed his endorsement would help protect jobs.