Exclusive on Rafale deal: Journalist who interviewed Francois Hollande says India's statement is wrong
The journalist who interviewed former French President François Hollande has said that India is wrong in saying that the Indian and French governments were not involved in the deal between Dassault Aviation and Reliance Defence.
In an exclusive interview with India Today TV, Antton Rouget, who interviewed Hollande for Mediapart, said Hollande clearly told them that it was the Indian government who proposed the name of Reliance Defence to the French authorities.
Following are excerpts of an email interview with Antton Rouget:
India Today TV: Could you please take us through the interview of former French President François Hollande, what exactly did he tell you about the Rafale deal and Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence?
Antton Rouget: The former French President François Hollande, who was in office at the time of the signing of the Rafale contract between Dassault Aviation and Reliance Defence clearly told us that it's the Indian government which had proposed [the name of] Reliance Defence to French authorities.
The exact declaration is: "We didn't have any say in this matter. It is the Indian government which had proposed this service group, and Dassault who negotiated with Ambani. We didn't have a choice. We took the interlocutor who was given to us. That's why this group had no reason to give me any grace [favour] of any sort. I could not even imagine that there was any link with Julie Gayet's film."
India Today TV: The former French president has gone on record to tell you that he was not given a choice and that the name of Reliance Defence was given by the Indian government. Did he tell you the reasons behind it?
Antton Rouget: He didn't tell us about the motives of the Indian government. We don't know if he knows them [the motives]. On the other hand, the French authorities accepted this request because the Rafale contract was very important here.
India Today TV: There is also an allegation of conflict of interest or a quid-pro-quo as Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence, allegedly funded a French movie which was produced by Mr Hollande's partner Julie Gayet. Can you please tell us what did you find out about this in your investigation?
Antton Rouget: We discovered several things: the financing was not made directly by Reliance Defence but by an investment fund of a Frenchman who has known Ambani for 25 years. The funding had arrived very late in the film, on the eve of the shoot. It couldn't have been without it (1.6 million euros (16 per cent of the film's total budget) was paid by this fund.
The film doesn't speak about India and won't be distributed in your country. The financing was registered at the end of 2015 but the announcement was made on January 25, the day of the arrival of François Hollande in New Delhi. François Hollande and Julie Gayet told us that the financing of the film and the sales of Rafale had nothing to do with each other.
India Today TV: When was this interview with the former French president conducted?
Antton Rouget: We talked twice with him this week.
India Today TV: In India, the Rafale deal is the hottest political topic already, where do you see the story going in France?
Antton Rouget: We are only at the beginning of the affair in France. Our article will help launch the topic here to inform a number of decisions of the time.
India Today TV: In your opinion, could Mr Hollande's statement have been influenced by any possible effort on his part to defend the allegations of a quid-pro-quo, with respect to Julie Gayet's film production and investment by Reliance Defence?
Antton Rouget: He was formal on the subject saying that he didn't know Reliance Defence and that it was imposed on him. It is clear that we will now seek to understand how all this is articulated.
India Today TV: The Indian government has reiterated that the governments of India and France had no say in commercial decisions. How do you react to that?
Antton Rouget: This argument is not valid for a second. Everyone in France knows that all governments are involved enormously for the export of the Rafales, which is a very important subject here. François Hollande and his government were the best sellers of Rafale.