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Judge appointed in France to probe Rafale deal charges

On Friday, Mediapart, which ran a series of reports in April this year on the 2016 inter-governmental deal, reported that a judge had been appointed for a “highly sensitive” judicial investigation into alleged “corruption and favouritism” in the deal.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: July 4, 2021 6:31:53 pm
Judge appointed in France to probe Rafale deal chargesAccording to Mediapart, a “judicial probe into suspected corruption has been opened in France over the 7.8-billion-euro sale to India in 2016 of 36 Dassault-built Rafale fighter aircraft”.

Authorities in France have initiated a judicial probe into allegations of corruption in the sale of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft to India, according to French website Mediapart.

On Friday, Mediapart, which ran a series of reports in April this year on the 2016 inter-governmental deal, reported that a judge had been appointed for a “highly sensitive” judicial investigation into alleged “corruption and favouritism” in the deal.

According to Mediapart, a “judicial probe into suspected corruption has been opened in France over the 7.8-billion-euro sale to India in 2016 of 36 Dassault-built Rafale fighter aircraft”.

It said the “highly sensitive probe into the inter-governmental deal signed off in 2016 was formally opened on June 14th”. The probe, Mediapart said, had been initiated by the national financial prosecutors’ office (PNF).

According to the report, the PNF initially refused to investigate the sale, and Mediapart had accused it of “burying” the investigation.

Mediapart said the French anti-corruption NGO Sherpa filed a complaint with the Paris tribunal, alleging “corruption”, “influence peddling”, “money laundering”, “favouritism” and undue tax wavering surrounding the deal.

It said that the PNF, the financial crimes branch of the French public prosecution services, confirmed to Mediapart Friday that the “newly opened investigation is focussed on all four of the alleged crimes”.

“The criminal investigation, opened on June 14th and led by an independent magistrate, an investigating judge, will, among other elements, examine questions surrounding the actions of former French president François Hollande, who was in office when the Rafale deal was inked, and current French president Emmanuel Macron, who was at the time Hollande’s economy and finance minister, as well as the then defence minister, now foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian,” Mediapart reported.

In February 2019, The Indian Express had reported that in the fourth week of March 2015, about a fortnight before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France, businessman Anil Ambani visited then French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s office in Paris and had a meeting with his top advisors.

The meeting was attended by Le Drian’s special advisor Jean-Claude Mallet; his industry advisor, Christophe Salomon; and his technical advisor for industrial affairs, Geoffrey Bouquot.

Dassault and Reliance have formed a joint venture company, Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (51% Reliance Aerostructure and 49% Dassault Aviation), with an industrial plant in Nagpur for discharge of offsets.

In August 2018, The Indian Express reported that Ambani’s film production company had invested money in a film produced by Julie Gayet, the then French President Francois Hollande’s partner, two days before an MoU was signed between the two countries during Hollande’s visit to India on January 26, 2016.

In September 2018, Hollande told Mediapart: “We did not have a say in this. The Indian government proposed this group, and Dassault negotiated with Ambani. We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us.”

Rebutting this claim, Dassault had issued a statement that its partnership with Reliance was its choice. The French government, too, said it was “in no manner involved” in the choice of Indian partners by French defence companies. The Ministry of Defence spokesman said “it is reiterated that neither the Government of India nor the French government had any say in the commercial decision”.

On Saturday, reacting to the Mediapart report, the Congress demanded formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the Rafale deal. It said the stand of the party and its leader Rahul Gandhi, who had raised the issue in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, had been vindicated. Congress communication head Randeep Surjewala asked the Prime Minister to “answer the nation” in view of the judicial inquiry ordered in France, and submit his government to a JPC probe.

The BJP hit back at the Congress, citing reports of the CAG and the Supreme Court. Party spokesperson Sambit Patra said the apex court had made it clear in its verdict that there can’t be “a fishing and roving enquiry” in the matter. Patra accused Rahul Gandhi of going on another “fishing expedition”.

In December 2018, the Supreme Court had dismissed a bunch of petitions demanding a court-monitored investigation into the deal.

Dismissing the petitions filed by former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, advocate Prashant Bhushan, AAP leader Sanjay Singh, the Supreme Court said it found “no reason for any intervention… on the sensitive issue of purchase of 36 defence aircraft by the Indian Government”, and that “perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving enquiry… especially in such matters”. It noted that there was “no occasion to doubt the (decision-making) process” leading to the award of the contract. And it refused to get into the question of pricing, stating that “it is certainly not the job of this Court to carry out a comparison of the pricing details in matters like the present”.

In November 2019, a bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi rejected the review petitions filed by Shourie, Sinha, Bhushan and Singh.

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