New Delhi: Former civil aviation minister and NCP leader Praful Patel was questioned for about eight hours by the Enforcement Directorate on Monday in connection with a money laundering probe related to losses suffered by Air India as part of an alleged multi-crore aviation scam, officials said.
Patel appeared before the agency around 10.30 am here and left shortly before 7 pm, they said.
The Rajya Sabha MP is expected to appear again on Tuesday as the questioning and recording of his statement has to continue, they said.
He is the first high-profile person who has deposed before the ED in this case.
The investigating officer of the case recorded his statement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the former Union cabinet minister of the UPA government is understood to have "cooperated" with the agency.
The case emerges from a criminal complaint registered by the ED for alleged irregularities in fixing air slots for international airlines that purportedly led to losses for Air India, the national carrier.
Patel, 62, has also been named in a recent chargesheet filed by the federal agency before a court, as a person known to alleged aviation lobbyist Deepak Talwar. Talwar was arrested by the ED sometime back.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, who was in-charge of the civil aviation ministry between 2004 and 2011, has not been mentioned as an accused in the case.
Sources had told PTI that the ED had already questioned a number of people in the senior management of the state-owned airline and the aviation ministry.
The ED had said in the chargesheet that "the investigation so far from the accused and others reveal that Praful Patel is a dear friend of Deepak Talwar... Talwar used to finalise the communication to be sent to Patel on behalf of entities such as Emirates, Dubai Aerospace Enterprises etc".
Patel is understood to have been quizzed about the statements and revelations made by Talwar, officials said.
He had earlier told the media that "he will be happy to cooperate with the ED for their understanding of the complexities of the aviation sector".
The ED chargesheet in the case named Talwar and claimed he was in regular touch with Patel.
It has alleged that Talwar finalised various communications addressed to Patel on behalf of Emirates and Air Arabia.
Talwar obtained undue favours for the private airlines using his contacts, according to the chargesheet.
The agency has also alleged that Talwar was engaged in lobbying with politicians, ministers, public servants and officials in the civil aviation ministry for Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar Airways in order to secure undue benefits for these airlines.
"He (Talwar) illegally managed to secure favourable traffic rights for these airlines during 2008-09 at the cost of the national carrier Air India," the ED has claimed.
It has also been alleged that in lieu of securing favourable traffic rights, these airlines made payments to the tune of Rs 272 crore to Talwar during 2008-09.
"He created a web of his own entities and used the companies of his son, Aditya Talwar, in India and international offshore havens to launder Rs 272 crore received from foreign airlines.
"Part of these payments were made to a bank account in the Bank of Singapore, belonging to a company called Asiafield Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands and beneficially owned by Deepak Talwar," the agency has said in the chargesheet.
Talwar was arrested by the ED early this year after he was deported from Dubai.