New Delhi, Jul 3 (PTI) A French judge has been appointed to lead a 'highly sensitive' judicial investigation into 'suspected corruption' and 'favouritism' in the Rs 59,000 crore inter-governmental deal with India for the supply of 36 Rafale fighter jets, French investigative website Mediapart reported.
It said the probe, ordered by France's national financial prosecutor's office, is the result of a series of investigative reports into the contract published in April by Mediapart besides a complaint into the allegations by anti-corruption NGO Sherpa.
The report said the judicial investigation was ordered by France's national financial prosecutor's office (PNF) following Mediapart's fresh reports in April of alleged wrongdoings in the deal as well as a complaint filed by French NGO Sherpa that specialises in financial crime.
'A French judge has been appointed to lead a judicial investigation into suspected 'corruption' and 'favouritism' over the 7.8-billion-euro sale to India of 36 Dassault Aviation Rafale fighter aircraft,' Mediapart said.
'The highly sensitive probe into the inter-governmental deal signed off in 2016 was formally opened on June 14th,' it added.
Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation and India's defence ministry previously trashed allegations of any corruption in the contract. India's Supreme Court too in 2019 dismissed petitions seeking a probe into the deal saying there was no ground for it.
'The criminal investigation, opened on June 14th and led by an independent magistrate, an investigating judge, will, among other elements, examine questions surrounding the actions of former French president François Hollande, who was in office when the Rafale deal was inked, and current French president Emmanuel Macron, who was at the time Holllande's economy and finance minister, as well as the then defence minister, now foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian,' Mediapart said.
As the controversy surrounding the contract resurfaced, the Congress on Saturday demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the deal, alleging corruption in the purchase of the fighter jets.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra played down the appointment of the judge in France to lead the investigation, saying the development was the outcome of a complaint by an NGO and should not be seen as a matter of corruption.
In its report, Mediapart said the former head of the PNF, Eliane Houlette, dismissed in 2019 an initial complaint filed by Sherpa, against the advice of one of her staff and without carrying out any investigations, justifying her decision as 'to preserve the interests of France'.
'Now, two years later, her successor as head of the PNF, Jean-François Bohnert, has decided to support the opening of a probe, after the complaint was updated with details from Mediapart's recent series of investigations,' it said.
In a statement published in April, reacting to Mediapart's investigation, Dassault Aviation stated that the group, 'acts in strict compliance with the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and national laws'.
The NDA government had signed a Rs 59,000-crore deal on September 23, 2016 to procure 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation after a nearly seven-year exercise to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force did not fructify during the UPA regime.
The Congress accused the government of massive irregularities in the deal, alleging that it was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government during the negotiations for the MMRCA.
Prior to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the Congress raised several questions about the deal and alleged corruption but the government rejected all the charges. PTI MPB ZMN