AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes says he has applied for special Indian citizenship

AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes says he has applied for special Indian citizenship

Malaysian airline tycoon Tony Fernandes says has applied for a special form of Indian citizenship that would allow him to evade aviation rules restricting foreign ownership in India.

By becoming an "Overseas Citizen of India" (OCI), the AirAsia chief executive may be able to wholly acquire and fully control the airline's Indian subsidiary, Bloomberg reported.

AirAsia India is a three-way joint venture between AirAsia, the Tata Group and a private investor, with the Malaysian group currently owning a 49 per cent stake.

Indian aviation rules that foreigners or foreign companies can only have up to a 49 per cent stake in local airlines, prompting a number of domestic Indian carriers to raise concerns that AirAsia India is foreign-controlled.

Mr Fernandes, whose parents are from India, told reporters in Hyderabad that he had submitted his application last week.

AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes named Time magazine's Most Influential

Mr Fernandes' announcement comes days after news emerged that as many as 54,000 Malaysians have renounced their citizenship since 2010.

But according to the Indian publication The Economic Times, the Overseas Citizen of India status, which is open to people who have Indian origin roots, does not amount to dual nationality or dual citizenship.

Mr Fernandes is credited with turning around AirAsia, which was heavily in debt when he bought it for RM1 (S$0.34) in 2001.

Today, it has more than 200 planes operated by eight carriers in five countries - Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India, The Straits Times reported recently.

Mr Fernandes also founded a Formula One team and is majority owner of English football club Queens Park Rangers.

With a net worth of US$230 million (S$312 million), he was ranked 45 in Forbes' list of the 50 richest Malaysians in 2016. In 2015, he was also included in Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

seanyap@sph.com.sg

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