Former French President François Hollande has claimed that his government “did not have a say” in choosing Anil Ambani’s company for the Rafale deal with India, the French publication Mediapart reported on Friday. In an interview to the publication, Hollande said that it was the Indian government that had proposed the name of Ambani’s Reliance Defence for the pact, which was agreed upon when he was president.

He also denied any connection of the deal with a film by his partner Julie Gayet. A media report had claimed last month that Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment had signed an agreement with Gayet to produce a film two days before Hollande attended Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi in 2016. During that visit, Hollande signed a memorandum of understanding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliver 36 Rafale aircraft to India.

The Indian government has claimed all along that it did not have anything to do with French company Dassault’s decision to work with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence to carry out the offset obligations in the Rafale deal. The Opposition, led by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, has however claimed that an earlier deal which envisioned Dassault working with Indian state manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was scrapped to “benefit Modi’s industrialist friend”.

Hollande told Mediapart:

“Nous n’avions pas notre mot à dire à ce sujetC’est le gouvernement indien qui a proposé ce groupe de service, et Dassault qui a négocié avec Ambani. Nous n’avons pas eu le choix, nous avons pris l’interlocuteur qui nous a été donné. C’est pourquoi, par ailleurs, ce groupe n’avait pas à me faire quelque grâce de quoi que ce soit. Je ne pouvais même pas imaginer qu’il y avait un quelconque lien avec un film de Julie Gayet.”

[translated below]

“We did not have a say in this. The Indian government proposed this group, and Dassault [the company that manufactured the jets] negotiated with Ambani. We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us. I could not even imagine that there was any connection to a film by Julie Gayet.”

Update: Soon after reports of the interview with Hollande were published, the spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of Defence posted a tweet saying the news article is “being verified” and reiterated that neither “GoI” meaning Government of India, nor French Govt has any say in the commercial decision.

The Congress also reacted to the news with a tweet saying the “web of lies” stands exposed.

Rafale deal

On September 23, 2016, India and France signed a deal under which New Delhi would procure 36 Rafale aircraft worth Rs 59,000 crore from Paris. Later that year, Reliance Defence joined the offset programme of the Rafale deal through Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd, in which it holds a 51% stake. Dassault Aviation, which manufactured the jets, owns 49%. Reliance and Dassault announced a joint venture in India in October 2016.

Two months before the film’s release, Dassault Aviation chairperson Eric Trappier and Anil Ambani laid the foundation stone for the manufacturing facility in Nagpur.

The Opposition has accused the Narendra Modi-led government of granting the contract to Ambani’s firm, instead of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which was to make the aircraft in India before the Bharatiya Janata Party government entered a new deal with France. The Centre has claimed that it had no role in the deal between Dassault Aviation and Reliance, a point that Ambani has also made.

In the article by Mediapart, Hollande spoke about the deal, saying that he negotiatied with two different Indian prime ministers regarding Rafale, referring to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Modi. He pointed out that the initial plan was for India to buy 126 jets, but once the government changed, the deal moved to 36 aircraft. “But the manufacturing would happen in France, unlike in the older deal, so we lost one thing, and gained another.”