Rafale 'commission' finger at PM & Ambani

Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan alleged on Tuesday that the award of offsets in the Rafale deal to the Reliance-Dassault joint venture was "a commission for the services that Mr Ambani provides to Mr Modi".

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 12.09.18
  •  
(From left) Prashant Bhushan, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha at the news conference 
in New Delhi on Tuesday. Picture by Prem Singh 

New Delhi: Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan alleged on Tuesday that the award of offsets in the Rafale deal to the Reliance-Dassault joint venture was "a commission for the services that Mr Ambani provides to Mr Modi".

In a scathing attack on the Centre, particularly finance minister Arun Jaitley who wrote blogs defending the deal and rubbishing the charges of corruption, the three public figures said that false arguments were being offered to hide the truth and even the Indian Air Force was being pressurised to publicly praise the acquisition of the fighter jets.

"The responses of Reliance, Mr Jaitley and the government at large, cumulatively show that award of offsets to Reliance-Dassault JV is a commission for the services that Mr Ambani provides to Mr Modi," Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan said in a statement.

The practice of transferring technology and letting local firms build the product is known as "offset" obligation which countries demand from suppliers while spending huge amounts on defence products. Indirect offsets can include a supplier making investments in local industries, or helping export a country's goods.

The Anil Ambani-headed Reliance group had earlier denied any wrong-doing.

Asked if there was any evidence of kickbacks, former BJP leader Sinha said: "The deal has just been finalised and it is true that no transaction has been identified so far. But the infrastructure for commission payments has been set up. There was no need for a private party when the agreement on HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) had been finalised. One minister recently wrote where is the 'uncle' (referring to Ottavio Quattrocchi, the alleged conduit in the Bofors deal) in the deal, there is no uncle but there is a nephew."

Shourie said: "An investigation has to be done to establish the kickbacks. We have to mount pressure for investigation, keep asking questions and the government will get ensnared in its own lies. The question is why were procedures jettisoned? The entire manual (on defence procurement) was thrown into the dustbin."

The trio issued a statement saying: "By March of 2014, work-share agreement with HAL had been signed. On March 25, 2015, just 17 days before the new deal was announced, Dassault CEO Eric Trappier stated in the presence of the IAF chief and the HAL chairman that he was more than delighted with HAL as their partner. This means that just 17 days before the announcement of the new deal, the IAF chief, HAL chief and the Dassault CEO were clueless about any new deal. On April 8, 2015, just two days before the new deal, the foreign secretary had stated that the original deal was under process and HAL was very much a part of it."

It added: "It is absolutely remarkable that when the IAF chief, the foreign secretary and even the French President was unaware, Ambani had the most exceptional of foresights to incorporate the firm that would eventually benefit out of the deal, just 12 days prior to the announcement of the deal."

The statement asked: "How was the old deal killed and buried in a span of just two days? What transpired within a span of two days that justified the junking of a well-thought-out deal that was in accordance with the needs of the IAF and would have finally made India self-reliant in manufacturing advanced modern aircraft and that too in line with the operational requirements and within a timeline as specified by the IAF itself? Did the IAF give its studied recommendations within a span of two days?"

Recalling that Jaitley himself said the approval for the 36 aircraft was given on May 13, 2015, by the Defence Acquisition Council, more than a month after the new deal was announced, the trio said the presumption about prime ministerial discretion was fallacious and the approval of the DAC was a condition precedent.