France begins judicial probe into Rafale deal with India: French media; sparks war of words between Congress and BJP

·5-min read

New Delhi, Jul 3 (PTI) A French judge has been appointed to lead a 'highly sensitive' judicial probe into suspected 'corruption' and 'favouritism' in the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale fighter jet deal with India, French investigative website Mediapart has reported, in a development that sparked a fresh war of words on Saturday between the Congress and the BJP.

Mediapart said the investigation into the inter-governmental deal signed in 2016 was formally opened on June 14.

The Congress demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee(JPC) probe into the Rafale deal, alleging corruption in the purchase of the fighter jets, and said such an investigation is the only way forward to find the truth. The main opposition party further said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should order the investigation and come clean on the deal.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took an apparent dig at the prime minister using an idiomatic expression in Hindi while party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra quoted Lord Buddha to say, 'Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.' 'Corruption in the Rafale deal has come out clearly now. The stand of the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi has been vindicated today after the French government has ordered a probe,' Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told a news conference.

The BJP for its part alleged that Rahul Gandhi is acting as an agent of rival defence companies and being used as a 'pawn', and also claimed he and the Congress keep raking up allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal in an attempt to 'weaken' India.

At a press conference, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra also sought to play down the appointment of a judge, saying the development was an outcome of a complaint by an NGO and should not be seen as a matter of corruption.

Mediapart said the judicial investigation has been ordered by France's national financial prosecutors' office (PNF) following the website'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,' the Mediapart said. 'The highly sensitive probe into the inter-governmental deal signed off in 2016 was formally opened on June 14th,' it added.

'The criminal investigation 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 Hollande's economy and finance minister, as well as the then defence minister, now foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian,' the Mediapart said.

Mediapart journalist Yann Philippin, who filed a series of reports on the fighter deal, alleged that a first complaint was 'buried' in 2019 by a former PNF chief.

'The judicial investigation was finally opened following the revelations of the investigation #RafalePapers of @mediapart and a new complaint from @Asso_Sherpa. A 1st complaint was buried in 2019 by the former PNF boss, Eliane Houlette,' he tweeted.

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 National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had inked 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(IAF) did not fructify during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime.

The Congress had 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.

Ahead of the the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the Congress raised several questions about the deal and alleged corruption but the government rejected all the charges.

Surjewala told reporters that since the matter deals with national security and identity, a fair and independent JPC probe is the only way out and not by the Supreme Court.

'When the French government has accepted that there is corruption in the deal, should a JPC probe not be held in the country where the corruption took place?' he asked.

Surjewala said this issue is not about Congress versus BJP, but this is an issue that concerns the security of the country and 'corruption' in the biggest defence deal.

'The facts now clearly tell and call for a thorough JPC probe into the Rafale scam. Will the prime minister, like the French, now answer to the nation and tell when the prime minister will submit his government to a JPC probe into the Rafale scam?' The Congress leader said in view of the latest revelations, it becomes all the more scandalous. 'The JPC is the only way forward,' he claimed.

BJP's Sambit Patra alleged that the Congress has become synonymous with spreading lies and misconceptions.

'The way Rahul Gandhi is behaving, it will not be an exaggeration to say that he is being used as a pawn by competing companies. He has been lying right from the beginning on the issue. Probably, he is acting as an agent or some member of Gandhi family has been for a competing company,' Patra alleged at his news conference. PTI MPB SKC KR GSN GSN GSN

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