CAA fears ‘cornered’ airline owners may try to flee country

KARACHI: Fearing that the owners of the Shaheen Air International (SAI) — which has allegedly committed a fraud of over Rs1.3 billion — may escape from the country, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has urged the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to take action against the airline.

According to highly-placed sources, the amount is tax, etc, that the SAI has collected from its passengers on behalf of the CAA. But the owners of the airline — Sehbai brothers — have pocketed the money, instead of giving it to the CAA, for the last several months.

The sources said that a complaint had been sent to the FIA Karachi zone director by CAA Director (air transport and economic regulation) Syed Muzaffar Alam against the chairman, chief executive officer (CEO) and management of the airline for “illegally holding the authority’s Rs1.368bn” the SAI had collected as agent from its international and domestic passengers.

Urges FIA to take action against the airline accused of having committed Rs1.3bn fraud

The CAA official in his Aug 24 complaint states that CEO Ehsan Khalid Sehbai, Chairman Kashif Khalid Sehbai and management of the airline have been “illegally holding the money since March and not returning the amount to the CAA” despite repeated notices and remainders.

“There is a serious apprehension that Ehsan Sehbai, Kashif Sehbai, and (members of) SAI management are likely to flee the country with a criminal intent for causing loss to public, (national) exchequer,” the complaint says. “Therefore, it is requested that action may be initiated against these culprits and other persons who are directly or indirectly involved in commission of offences, at the earliest. Copies of proof of collection of amount as agent and dues are attached.”

According to the sources, the SAI has been facing some financial issues for some time.

The CAA recently suspended the airline’s flight operations, except Haj-related flights, owing to non-payment of its dues. Subsequently, the SAI approached the court, challenging the authority’s action and the matter is pending.

A few days later, the Federal Board of Revenue sealed SAI offices on the grounds that the airline is not paying its dues.

However, the offices were reopened by the FBR on Friday after the SAI submitted bank guarantee of the board’s demand of Rs1.4bn and initiated negotiations with it.

“Similarly, the airline’s management also plans to hold talks with the CAA to sort out the issues and get its flight operations resumed,” said a representative of the SAI.

The sources said that a large number of SAI employees were protesting as they had not yet been paid salary.

The SAI representative claimed that most of the employees had been paid salary. However, he added, some employees had not yet received salary due to the sealing of SAI offices by the FBR and Eid holidays. They would soon receive their salary, he said.

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2018



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