Former Turkish Airlines Chairman Ilker Ayci has declined Tata Sons’ offer to be at the helm of Air India as its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and managing director (MD), saying “news in some sections of the Indian media attempting to colour my appointment with undesirable colours”.

“As a business leader who has always prioritised professional credo… I have come to the conclusion that it would not be a feasible or an honorable decision to accept the position in the shadow of such narrative,” he said in a statement.

RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch had last Friday told PTI that the government should not give clearance to the appointment of Ayci, as the CEO and MD of Air India, “keeping in view national security”.

Ayci is considered to be close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ally of Pakistan.

Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan had told PTI, “We feel that government should not give its permission (to Ayci’s appointment) keeping in view national security.”

“I think the government is already sensitive to the issue and has taken up the matter very seriously. I don’t think the government will approve it,” he added.

“After all, decisions are taken about a person based on his relationships,” he had said.

Heckles were raised when soon after the Tata Group announced his candidature — “subject to requisite regulatory approvals” — foreign media reports emerged suggesting Ayci had allegedly facilitated investments of a one-time al-Qaeda financier.

A Turkish court-approved probe in a corruption case had indicated Ayci as then president of Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT) for facilitating those investments.

The government was running extensive checks on this confidante of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — who is not exactly known as a friend of India — to see is he can be given security clearance.

A Tata Sons spokesperson confirmed to the media on Tuesday that Ayci had indeed declined to take up the position.

Tata Sons, however, declined immediate comment on the development and did not respond to PTI’s request for a statement on Ayci’s decision.

Ayci said he remains grateful to the Tata Group and its chairman N Chadrasekaran for extending to him the honour and the opportunity to lead Air India. “However, at a recent meeting with Mr Chadrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Group, I regretfully informed him and I wish to inform the public, as well, that I will decline the position,” he said.

Ayci said he has taken this decision with a heavy heart, and he wishes Air India and the Tata Group every success.”I will continue my career by pursuing alternative opportunities with the objective of creating value and building world class businesses,” he said.

Tata Sons had on February 14 announced the appointment of Ayci as the CEO and MD of recently-privatised Air India. The salt-to-software conglomerate had on October 08, 2021 won the bid to acquire debt-laden state-run Air India by offering Rs 18,000 crore for it.

The Tatas are now likely to announce a new name in coming days. Whether it includes someone previously shortlisted remains to be seen.


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