NEW DELHI: The Delhi high court on Tuesday asked Naresh Goyal, the founder and former chairman of Jet Airways (India) Ltd, to first deposit ₹18,000 crore the grounded airline owes lenders if he wishes to travel overseas.
Declining to grant permission to Goyal to leave India, the court sought the response of the Union government to his plea. The court was hearing Goyal’s petition challenging a lookout circular (LOC) issued against him.
In his petition, Goyal contended that as on 25 May, when he was deboarded from a flight to Dubai, no case was registered against him. At the time, there was no material to show that there was any attempt by Goyal to evade investigation and as Goyal is a non-resident Indian (NRI), he is required to travel abroad from time to time, argued senior counsel Maninder Singh, who appeared for the petitioner.
The fundamental right of the petitioner has been restricted, Singh argued.
Justice Suresh Kait, however, refused to grant any interim relief to Goyal while posting the matter for 23 August for further hearing.
“The petitioner herein contends that the impugned LOC has been issued without any basis. The petitioner submits that the impugned the Office Memoranda are bad in law and violative of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution," the petition contended.
On 25 May, Goyal and his wife Anita Goyal were stopped from flying abroad by immigration authorities. The duo was disembarked from an Emirates plane flying out of Mumbai airport.
In March, Goyal was forced to cede control of the airline he had founded more than two decades ago, after Jet Airways, saddled with about ₹8,500 crore in debt, defaulted on payments to banks and aircraft lessors.
The airline was grounded on 17 April amid a severe cash crunch and its inability to service the massive debt. The Mumbai-based airline has total liabilities, including unpaid salaries and vendor dues, of over ₹15,000 crore.
Lenders led by State Bank of India tried to resolve the insolvency at Jet through a bidding process by selling as much as 75% of the carrier. However, the efforts failed and the bankers began bankruptcy proceedings against the airline and referred it to the National Company Law Tribunal.
The petition said the LOC was issued against Goyal on the request of the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) which comes under the corporate affairs ministry after it found several irregularities in the operations of the airline company. The ministry had ordered the probe by SFIO on 4 July for alleged siphoning of funds. The report is to be submitted in six weeks, the ministry had said.
“The company was prima facie indulging into malpractices, mismanagement through siphoning/ writing-off/ diversion of funds and other financial irregularities, including but not limited to preferential/ related party transactions prejudicial to the public interest," said MCA in the order.
The orders for a fraud probe is based on a report by the Registrar of Companies submitted on 8 May, which had found serious violations of the Companies Act.