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Jet Airways may revive but Naresh Goyal should be made accountable

Jet Airways may revive but Naresh Goyal should be made accountable

With creditors to Jet Airways clearing a resolution plan, India’s country’s oldest private airline may experience a rebirth. That will be good for its creditors and employees, the aviation sector, and the economy in general. Even if the company is revived, the acts of malfeasance by its founder and former promoter Naresh Goyal should be neither forgotten nor forgiven.

Astonishingly, Goyal was accused of not just business misdemeanors but also serious crimes. He is also said to have had unsavory connections. In his A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India (Harper Collins, 2016), investigative journalist Josy Joseph mentioned a letter former Intelligence Bureau joint director Anjan Ghosh wrote. “It was a single-page note to Sangita Gairola, joint secretary at the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA), saying that his agency had ‘confirmed information of intermittent contacts between Naresh Goyal and underworld dons, Chhota Shakeel and Dawood Ibrahim, to settle financial issues. There is strong suspicion that parts of Goyal’s investments may have accrued through the help of und­erworld groups, prominently headed by Dawood and Chhota Shakeel’.”

Former IB chief K.P. Singh also wrote in a letter that Goyal “appeared to have earned his wealth through smuggling and other illegitimate means and that the airlines was probably investigated for FERA [Foreign Exchange Regulation Act] violations.”

It was not just the security agencies that were gunning for Goyal; in 2000, the then disinvestment minister Arun Shourie had openly accused him of having scuttled the privatization of Air India. Questions were raised about the funding of Jet Airways. But nothing happened to Goyal; his business thrived unabated; he went international when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in office. Foreign countries were concerned about Jet; their concerns were brushed aside by the Indian government.

Worse, there was no criminal or civil inquiry against Goyal for decades; for much less, businesspersons have faced the ire of the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), etc. It is only recently that some inquiries began against him in money siphoning cases.

It was only in 2019 that some legal action was taken against Goyal. The SFIO began investigation into the case of alleged fraud of Rs 18,000 crore. Even at that time he was not cooperating with the authorities, the government informed the Delhi High Court in August 2019. Little more than that has been heard about him. Evidently, he is still dealt with kid gloves.

It was the gross mismanagement by Goyal and his allegedly unscrupulous deals that led to the shutdown of Jet Airways. Thankfully, efforts made to revive it seem to be bearing fruit. “The plan submitted by a consortium of London-based Kalrock Capital and UAE-based businessman Murari Lal Jalan comes after months of talks over the airline’s future and was confirmed in the regulatory filing, which gave no details of the deal,” said a Reuters report.

The new owners have reportedly agreed to pump in Rs 1,000 crore as working capital for the revival of the airline, and another Rs 1,000 crore to creditors over a period of five years. Financial creditors of the airline will also get 10 per cent stake in the company, the report said.

We can only hope that Jet gets resuscitated, but the alleged crimes of its former owner Naresh Goyal should not be forgotten..