- Tony Fernandes, the chief of AirAsia Group, is being investigated
- CBI alleges Mr Fernandes bribed Indian officials to influence policies
- The probe is seen as a setback to AirAsia's expansion in India
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has named Fernandes and other officials from AirAsia and its Indian unit in its investigation, the official told reporters on Tuesday in New Delhi, asking not to be identified citing rules. Fernandes and an AirAsia India spokeswoman didn't respond to requests for comments.
The probe is a setback to AirAsia's expansion, with its India unit planning more domestic flights and a January start to international operations. Fernandes has identified India as one of the main pillars of his pan-Asian dream as he seeks to capture a share of a market dominated by Gulf-based carriers and the national carrier Air India.
The charges laid out by the CBI allege Fernandes and others bribed Indian officials through middlemen to influence policies, including obtaining a flying permit and approvals to fly internationally, the official said.
After more than a decade of deliberation, India in 2016 scrapped a restrictive rule that only granted international licenses to carriers with five years of domestic operations and a minimum of 20 aircraft in their fleet. The new rules allow airlines to fly abroad if they deploy 20 planes or 20 percent of capacity, whichever is higher, on local routes. The easing opened up room for the local affiliates of AirAsia and Singapore Airlines Ltd. to start overseas flights sooner.
Fernandes has established affiliates over the years in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Japan and Vietnam, trying to take advantage of world-beating traffic growth in the region. AirAsia has ordered hundreds of planes worth billions of dollars from Airbus SE to meet its expansion plans and is in the process of selling a plane-leasing unit to raise more cash.
India, the world's fastest-growing major aviation market, has been a prime focus for AirAsia, as an emerging middle class with enough disposable income flies for the first time. Fernandes has talked about a potential IPO for the unit, which could boost the value of the parent company by $200 million, Crucial Perspective, a specialist in Asian transportation equities, said in January.