Cong targets govt over French media report on 'middleman' in Rafale deal

·5-min read

New Delhi, Apr 9 (PTI) Launching a fresh offensive, the Congress demanded answers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday over charges of a 'middleman' in the Rafale fighter jet deal and sought an independent probe into the matter.

Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged corruption and a loss of Rs 21,075 crore to the state exchequer in the Rafale deal, after a French media outlet reported about the role of a 'middleman'.

'How can a private individual and middleman be so powerful as to influence the decisions of the Modi government in India's biggest defence deal? Does it not require a thorough independent investigation?' he asked at a press conference.

'The government can no longer hide and it must answer to the people of India,' Surjewala said, alleging that after the fresh revelations, it is clear that there was corruption of 2.81 billion euros in the Rafale deal through a middleman, who also had key documents of the defence ministry.

In a tweet, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi told students to ask the prime minister to answer without fear as to who indulged in corruption and took money in the Rafale deal by allowing middlemen access to key defence ministry documents.

'Dear students, PM said answer questions without fear and nervousness. Please ask him to do the same: Who took money in the #Rafale corruption scandal? Who deleted the anti-corruption clauses in the contract? Who gave middlemen access to key Defence Ministry documents?' he wrote on Twitter.

Union minister Smriti Irani hit back at Gandhi, posing a question and an answer on Twitter: 'Dear students, Q) How does an absentee politician who has never held an honest job in his life manage to globe trot? A) The Family chest brims with money looted from defence deals.' In another tweet, she said, 'Dear students, Q) What defence scams did the globe trotting absentee politician's family indulge in? A) Jeep deal, Bofors deal, AgustaWestland deal.' The government has denied any wrongdoing and the presence of middlemen in the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from French firm Dassault Aviation, noting that it was a government-to-government deal.

Union minister and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad has dismissed the corruption allegations as 'completely baseless' and suggested that the report in the French media about alleged financial irregularities in the deal may be due to 'corporate rivalry' in that country.

On its part, Dassault Aviation has also rejected the charge of corruption in the deal, saying no violations were reported in the frame of the contract, days after French online journal 'Mediapart' alleged that the jet manufacturer had paid nearly one million euros to an Indian middleman.

Surjewala asked why the government removed the mandatory 'anti-corruption clauses' in the Rafale deal and whether the prime minister knew about it.

'Isn't it correct that the French government or Dassault deleted the anti-corruption clauses? Were the anti-corruption clauses deleted to escape responsibility from the bribery and commissions to be paid in the Rafale deal?' he asked.

The Congress leader alleged that the deletion of the 'anti-corruption clauses' was approved by the prime minister and the government in September 2016, despite the defence ministry's insistence upon including those in the inter-governmental agreement in July 2015.

'Why was an exception made for the first time in the country's history on there being no anti-corruption clause, no middleman clause, no commission clause, no gift clause, no undue influence clause? Was it to safeguard them if and when the allegations and evidence of corruption surfaced?' he asked.

Surjewala alleged that the 'fresh revelations in the Rafale scam have now cemented corruption, treason, loss to public exchequer of at least 2.81 billion euros (Rs 21,075 crore) and criminal breach of national security by the Modi government'.

'The prime minister and the government must answer to the nation,' he said, referring to the claims made by 'Mediapart' that arms dealer Sushen Gupta, charge-sheeted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal, supplied classified documents to Dassault Aviation on the Indian negotiating team when talks were gridlocked over benchmark pricing in the 7.87-billion-euro Rafale deal.

Asked whether his party will move the court, Surjewala said 'the Congress Working Committee will deliberate upon the matter and take a call'.

He, however, said the Congress has maintained that the Supreme Court is not the forum to investigate corruption in the Rafale deal and that is why it had suggested the setting up of a joint parliamentary committee probe with quasi-judicial powers.

Pointing to the documents recovered by the ED from the middleman, Surjewala asked why is the government sitting over them and 'why does it not require an impartial, thorough investigation when more than prima facie evidence of corruption, treason, national security breach is out in the open'.

He pointed out that the final calculations of the Indian negotiation team were never in the public domain but they are now and the calculations fix the price at 5.06 billion euros for 36 aircraft. When this figure was conveyed to Dassault by the defence ministry on January 20, 2016, the latter did an internal meeting and said the price should be 7.87 billion euros, which the ministry rejected, he claimed. PTI SKC RC