A French judge has been appointed to lead a “highly sensitive” judicial investigation into alleged “corruption and favouritism” in the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale fighter jet deal with India, French investigative website Mediapart has reported.
The development has led to a war of words between the INC and the BJP.
INC chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come forward and order a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal. “Corruption in the Rafale deal has come out clearly now. The stand of the INC party and Rahul Gandhi has been vindicated today after the French government has ordered a probe,” he told reporters at a press conference.
The BJP reacted sharply to the INC demand.
“INC is synonymous with lies and myths. Today they lied about the Rafale deal, again. If a country’s (France) NGO (Sherpa) complains against a charge and its financial prosecution body orders a probe accordingly, it should not be seen as corruption,” BJP leader Sambit Patra said.
“The way Rahul Gandhi is behaving, it will not be an exaggeration to say that he is being used as a pawn by competing companies. He has been lying right from the beginning on the issue. Probably, he is acting as an agent or some member of Gandhi family has been for a competing company,” Patra added.
He alleged that as the Gandhi family had received no commission in the Rafale deal, its party had been levelling these allegations.
Rafale probe formally opened on 14 June
The Mediapart said the probe into the inter-governmental deal signed in 2016 was formally opened on 14 June.
“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,” the Mediapart reported on the latest development on the controversial deal.
It said the investigation has been initiated by the national financial prosecutor’s office (PNF).
The judicial investigation has been ordered by France’s national financial prosecutor’s office, following Mediapart‘s fresh reports in April of alleged wrongdoings in the deal as well as a complaint filed by French NGO Sherpa that specialises in financial crime.
Mediapart journalist Yann Philippin, who filed a series of reports on the deal, said a first complaint was “buried” in 2019 by a former PNF chief.
“The judicial investigation was finally opened following the revelations of the investigation #RafalePapers of @mediapart and a new complaint from @Asso_Sherpa. A 1st complaint was buried in 2019 by the former PNF boss, Eliane Houlette,” he tweeted.
In April, Mediapart, citing an investigation by the country’s anti-corruption agency, reported that Dassault Aviation had paid about one million Euros to an Indian middleman.
Dassault Aviation has rejected the allegations of corruption, saying no violations were reported in the frame of the contract.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had inked a Rs 59,000-crore deal on September 23, 2016, to procure 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation after a nearly seven-year exercise to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force did not fructify during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime.
The INC accused the government of massive irregularities in the deal, alleging that it was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government during the negotiations for the MMRCA.
Prior to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the INC raised several questions about the deal and alleged corruption but the government rejected all the charges.
INC demands JPC probe again
The INC on Saturday demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal.
Addressing a press conference virtually, INC spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “The scandalous expose of Rafale scam involving corruption, treason, loss to public exchequer has finally been uncovered.”
He said that INC and former party chief Rahul Gandhi stand vindicated today.
He said that if the role of former French President Francois Hollande and current President Emmanuel Macron is being investigated, then why not the former Indian defence minister and an Indian company be investigated too.
He said that the media outlet in France has revealed the deal between Dassault and an Indian company that constituted a joint venture.
He said, “This substantiates the statement made by then-President Francois Hollande, who said that the decision to appoint an Indian company as Dassault’s industrial partner was of the Indian government, meaning the Modi government. And the French had no choice into the matter.”
He also said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a deal worth 7.8 billion euro to buy 36 Rafale jets in place of 126 fighter jets.
Surjewala pointed out that the French government deleted the anti-corruption clause.
“The defects now clearly call for a JPC probe,” Surjewala added.