Dassault Aviation " the manufacturer of the Rafale jet " has, for the fourth time in three months, issued a clarification about the deal to sell 36 of its combat aircraft to India.
On Tuesday, Dassault CEO Eric Trappier reiterated his firm's stand that it wasn't forced or coerced to take on Reliance Defence as a partner in the joint venture signed last year. "We chose (Anil) Ambani by ourselves. We already have 30 partners other than Reliance Defence. The Indian Air Force is supporting the deal because they need the fighter jets for their own defence to be at the top."
Here's a look back at all the times Dassault issued clarifications about the deal and in one instance, even overruled the word of former president Francoise Hollande.
22 September: The Rafale deal controversy, which was already on the Opposition's radar owing to an apparent price difference in the freshly-negotiated deal, took a fresh turn on this day when Hollande claimed that France was given no choice on the Indian partner for manufacturer Dassault. "We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us," added Hollande, who was president of France from 2012 to 2017 (including at the time when the new deal was signed by the NDA government).
He insisted that France "did not choose Reliance in any way". When asked whether India had put pressure on Reliance and Dassault to work together, Hollande said he was unaware and "only Dassault can comment on this". It was Hollande's statement that gave Congress the ammunition to attack the Narendra Modi-led government of favouring Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group and alleged exchange of kick-backs.
French firm Dassault had spent years negotiating a deal for 126 fighter jets to be manufactured in India with HAL, but talks had stalled. On taking office, the Modi government cancelled the negotiations and decided to directly purchase 36 jets made in France.
Meanwhile, as the Indian government scurried for damage control with a standard we-had-no-role-we-are-probing-it response, a clarification was issued surprisingly by the French company itself. In a rare move, Dassault came out with a hurried response on the same day and claimed that it was free to choose its offset partners.
"In accordance with the policy of Make in India, Dassault Aviation has decided to make a partnership with India's Reliance Group. This is Dassault Aviation's choice..." the company said in its statement.
At the time, the company only cited the already available land, near an airprot, with Reliance, as the reason behind Dassault's choice of Reliance as an offset partner which had no experience in manufacturing fighter jets
"This partnership has led to the creation of the Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL) joint-venture in February 2017. Dassault Aviation and Reliance have built a plant in Nagpur for manufacturing parts for Falcon and Rafale aircraft. The Nagpur site was chosen because of the availability of land with direct access to an airport runway, an essential condition of aeronautic activities."
10 October: Merely days after the initial controversy broke out, the Congress party lapped up the prized opportunity it got to make Rafale Modi's Bofors. The Rafale deal was now 'Rafale Scam' in Opposition lingo. However, the government faced another set back when a French media company revealed as part of its investigative report that Dassault accepted to work with Reliance as "imperative and obligatory" condition for securing the fighter contract. French investigative media portal Mediapart claimed to have obtained a Dassault document which proved its claims.
As the issue gained traction in Indian media, Dassault again came out with another clarification. In the statement titled 'Rafale contract for India: clarifications by Dassault Aviation', the company said that, it has committed to offsets in India worth 50 percent of the value of the purchase of 36 Rafale jets "within the framework of the September 2016 Inter-Government Agreement between France and India" and in "compliance with the Indian regulations". Dassault re-iterated its stance that it was free to choose Relaince as an offset partner and highlighted that the company was only one of about 100 such firms with which it is currently negotiating terms of business.
"Dassault Aviation has freely chosen to make a partnership with India's Reliance Group. This joint-venture, Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL), was created 10 February 2017. Other partnerships have been signed with other companies such as BTSL, DEFSYS, Kinetic, Mahindra, Maini, SAMTEL,¦ Other negotiations are ongoing with a hundred-odd other potential partners," the statement read.
25 October: In an exclusive interview to CNBC-TV18, Trappier once again reiterated that Dassault picked Reliance over Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as its partner because the Anil Ambani-led company had land near an airfield on the outskirts of Nagpur, where they could set up a production facility. He added that Dassault had been in discussions with both Reliance Defence and HAL, and that HAL was aware of its discussions with Reliance.
13 November: Tuesday's> rather detailed clarification by Dassault group CEO Trappier himself is apparently tethered to Congress president Rahul Gandhi's dramatic claims that the French company 'lied' to 'protect' Modi. Rahul, on 2 November, claimed that Dassault invested Rs 284 crore in Anil Ambani's company and the latter bought land with the same money. "Why did they invest Rs 284 crore in a loss-making company?" asked Rahul.
The Dassault CEO made a come back by saying he was 'rather sad' at Rahul's comments. He cited the company's long history of dealings with successive Indian governments, including those headed by Jawaharlal Nehru and Manmohan Singh.
However, this time around Trappier's response was much more detailed as he went on to say that the fact that even though Anil Ambani's company was relatively new, he was still part of the 'large family'.
Trappier even went on to say that Reliance Defence's lack of experience was something he was looking for and purposely wanted. "I wanted to start from scratch," he said while adding that he consciously chose the Anil Ambani-led company for that reason.
When pressed further specifically on Rahul's charge about the Rs 284 crore, Trappier clarified that the money being invested was not going to Reliance directly but in a Joint Venture (JV) that included Dassault.
"We are not putting the money in Reliance. The money is going into the JV. I put my know-how free of charge on how to produce people. I have engineers and workers from Dassault who are taking the lead as far as the industrial part of this deal is concerned. At the same time, I have an Indian company like who is putting money into this JV as they want to develop their country. So the company is going to know how to produce aircraft," added Trappier.
With inputs from ANI