Rafale: Congress asks Modi to answer questions thrown up by French media report
The Congress on Monday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to answer the questions thrown up by a French media report on “hidden commissions and dubious middlemen” in the Rafale fighter aircraft deal.
Citing findings by the French investigating agency AFA (Agence Francaise Anticorruption), the Mediapart report confirmed the payment of 1 million euros (Rs 8.6 crore) to the Indian company and promised to reveal more in successive parts of the exposé.
The Congress, which had led the Opposition in accusing Prime Minister Modi of wrongdoing in relation to the fighter jet deal with France, levelled allegations of “commissions” and “middleman” and repeated its demand for a thorough investigation.
According to the Congress, the BJP-led government bought the jets at a higher price compared with one negotiated earlier by the UPA, and that Modi had personally intervened to ensure the offset contract went not to public-sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited but a company owned by Anil Ambani.
“The devastating sensational revelations in the last evening report of French news portal/agency — Mediapart.fr — have now revealed existence of middleman, payment of commission and red
flags raised by the French Anti-Corruption Agency — AFA,” Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala said at a news conference on Monday.
“The allegations of causing losses to the public exchequer, bribery and payment of commission in India’s biggest defence deal once again stare the Modi government in the face.”
Surjewala said the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from French company Dassault Aviation was a sordid saga of “squandering national interest, propagating the culture of crony capitalism and violation of the mandatory aspects of procurement prescribed in the Defence Procurement Procedure”.
“An investigation conducted by the AFA has now revealed that after the signing of the deal in 2016, Dassault paid 1.1 million euros to a middleman i.e. Defsys Solutions. This amount was shown as expenditure by Dassault (under) ‘gifts to clients’.”
“Defsys Solutions, the company mentioned in the report (which is a sub-contractor in the deal) is actually a company undertaking the assembly of flight simulators and optical and electronic systems, etc,” Surjewala said.
“Was the payment of 1.1 million euros, shown by Dassault as ‘gifts to clients’, in reality a commission paid to middleman for the Rafale deal? How can ‘middleman’ and ‘payment of commission’ be permitted in a ‘government-to-government defence contract’ or in any defence procurement in India in violation of the mandatory Defence Procurement Procedure?”
Surjewala asked the Prime Minister to answer these questions.
“Does it now not require a full and independent investigation into India’s biggest defence deal to find out how much bribery and commission in reality, if any, was paid and to whom in the Indian government?” he said.
Surjewala suggested the courts were not equipped to probe the whole gamut of violations and the only capable instrument was a joint parliamentary committee. He said that’s why the Congress had never gone to the Supreme Court over the matter.
Hitting back at the Congress, BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad dismissed as “completely baseless” the allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal.
He said the Opposition party made a big issue of the defence deal in 2019 Lok Sabha polls but lost badly. The Supreme Court had rejected a demand for a probe in the purchase of the fighter aircraft and the CAG also found nothing wrong, Prasad said.
The allegations of corruption were “completely baseless”, the minister said, and suggested that a report in the French media about the alleged financial irregularity in the deal may be due to “corporate rivalry” in that country.
Prasad said: “the Congress is raising the Rafale issue again. It lost in the Supreme Court. They campaigned in the 2019 polls on the Rafale issue, threw all kinds of abuses at the Prime Minister and still lost. How many seats did it get?”
The minister noted that Sushen Gupta, the alleged middleman whose name has cropped up in the French report on the Rafale deal, was arrested in the AgustaWestland case by the Enforcement Directorate in 2019. In this probe, the names of many Congress leaders had surfaced, Prasad said and accused the Congress of trying to “weaken” the security forces.
The Indian Air Force received a fleet of fighter aircraft from Rafale after 30 years, he said, adding that had they been there the during the time of the Balakot operation, Indian aircraft would not have to cross the borders to carry out the strike.