France Begins Judicial Investigation Into Rafale Deal

France Begins Judicial Investigation Into Rafale Deal
Source: Outlook India

In a big shock to the Indian government, France’s financial crimes branch has decided to reopen the case into one of the most controversial and high-profile cases – the Rafale deal – on alleged corruption charges. According to the French independent online journal Mediapart, a judge was appointed last month on June 14 to look into the matter and examine the sale of 36 Rafale aircrafts to India by Dassault Aviation. The development comes following a series of investigations on the matter conducted by a French publication in April 2021.

On July 2, Mediapart claimed that a judicial investigation for “corruption” and “favouritism” has finally been opened on the sale of the Rafale fighter jets to India. The journal also reveals that Dassault has done a huge financial favour to its local partner, Reliance’s chairman Anil Ambani.

According to reports, the probe will examine irregularities and non-adherence to the procedure on claims that more than one million Euros were given to an Indian middleman by Dassault, the Paris headquartered Rafale manufacturing company.

The report suggested that during the investigation, questions can be asked to former president Francois Hollande, the then finance minister and current president Emmanuel Macron, the then defence minister and current foreign minister of France, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Mediapart said that the French public prosecution services (PNF) decided to open the probe against allegations soon after Sherpa, an anti-corruption NGO in France, filed a complaint with the tribunal of Paris and claimed that there were many possible irregularities in the contract including corruption, money laundering and favouritism.

 Earlier in 2019, PNF had refused to probe the Rafale matter filed by Sherpa.

Meanwhile, Congress on Saturday has demanded to set up a parliamentary committee to probe the issue.

Rafale Deal – Background

In April 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Paris and met the then president Francois Hollande. During his meeting with Hollande, Modi had discussed the Rafale deal for the first time since he came to power. Reliance’s Anil Ambani and other Indian industrialists were also part of PM Modi’s delegation during the visit. 

The Indian Express reported that Ambani had visited Jean-Yves Les Drian’s office in Paris in March 2015, weeks before PM Modi’s official arrival to France. 

In July 2015, Manohar Parrikar, the then defence minister of the Modi government, had informed the parliament that the government scrapped the previous deal of 126 Rafale jets that was signed in 2012 during the UPA government, and decided to purchase 36 fighters in fly-away condition from a French company.

In September 2016, India officially signed an intergovernmental agreement with France to buy 36 aircrafts for 7.87 billion Euros (approximately ₹59,000 crores). However, the government did not reveal the price of the deal citing security concerns.

In November 2016, Reliance officially came into the picture when Dassault Aviation signed a deal with the company to complete its offset obligations. A joint venture was established between Reliance Aerostructure and Dassault called Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL).

In September 2018, amid the series of revelations by the French journal Mediapart on the Rafale deal in France, and serious allegations by opposition parties in India against the Modi government, Francois Hollande revealed in an interview that the Modi government had proposed only one company – Reliance ­– and they had no choice. “The Indian government proposed this service group, and Dassault negotiated with Ambani. We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor we were given,” said Hollande in his interview.

Supreme Court dismissed all the PILs in December 2018, seeking to launch a CBI probe into the Rafale deal. Giving a clean chit to the Modi government, a bench of the apex court headed by the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi said that they did not find any irregularities in the deal. The court had said that there is no point to interfere in the government deal. 

AAP leader Sanjay Singh, former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie,  and advocate Prashant Bhushan had moved the Supreme Court seeking a thorough investigation into the matter. 

Yet again, Mediapart came up with a new investigation and termed this deal as a ‘scandal’ in April 2021. The journal claimed in its report that Dassault had transferred a huge amount of money to a middleman in India, Sushen Mohan Gupta, to conclude the deal. The reports said that the French company had paid 50 percent of an order worth 1,017,850 to make 50 dummy models of Rafale to a Bengaluru-based subcontractor company namely Defsys Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

It is believed that the government has favoured Reliance and kicked state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) out of the picture. Critics say that government should clarify how Reliance Group, which has no experience in making weapons, got the deal. 

Opposition parties and many experts raised doubt that the cost per Rafale jet is also more than the previous deal.

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