Dassault was in discussions with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group as a potential partner much before Narendra Modi became the Indian prime minister, the chief executive officer of the French company told The Economic Times. Eric Trappier said the company made its choice because the Ambanis are a very “respectable family”.

Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence is part of the Rafale deal’s offset programme through a joint venture with Dassault. The offset partner was announced soon after India and France signed the Rafale jet deal in September 2016, when Modi was the Indian prime minister and Francois Hollande the French president. The Opposition in India has alleged that Dassault’s choice of partner was motivated by the closeness between Modi and Ambani.

Last month, the Congress stepped up its attack on the government after Hollande said his government “did not have a say” in choosing Ambani’s company and that India had proposed Reliance Defence’s name.

“We found Reliance in 2011-’12,” Trappier told The Economic Times. “So, this was not at the time of Hollande and not at the time of your current PM. It has been a long time since we are discussing with Reliance. I want to be clear that Dassault is a partner as the Ambanis are a very respectable family.”

Trappier was referring to talks between Dassault and Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries to discharge offsets as part of the deal signed under the previous United Progressive Alliance government for 126 jets. The Economic Times in September had reported that the deal was, however, cancelled after Reliance withdrew from the defence and aerospace business after 2014. Dassault formed partnership with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence in 2015 following the original talks held with Mukesh Ambani, the report added.

He rejected the allegation that India nudged him to choose the Reliance Group, and said Dassault had already signed deals with 30 companies over the deal.

Dassault is ready for investigation and there was no corruption involved, Trappier said in the interview. “We stick to the laws of France and laws of India and the law of the contract,” he said. “We are totally against corruption. If there is any investigation in France or India, we are not only open to the investigation, it is our duty [to respond]. We will prove there is no corruption.”

Trappier also clarified that Dassault’s business with Reliance Group would amount to Rs 850 crore, not Rs 30,000 crore, as has been alleged.

India managed a better deal for the 36 jets it got, as compared to what it would have paid for the 18 proposed to be purchased earlier as part of the deal negotiated by the previous Congress-led government, Trappier said.

The controversy

India and France signed a deal in 2016 for the delivery of 36 Rafale aircraft to the Indian Air Force. On July 20, Congress President Rahul Gandhi criticised Prime Minister Narenda Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Lok Sabha, claiming they had not been truthful about the deal with France. Gandhi alleged that not only is India overpaying for the Rafale aircraft, it is doing so to benefit businessman Anil Ambani. Gandhi’s allegations were bolstered when former French President Francois Hollande claimed in September that the Indian government had proposed Ambani’s Reliance Defence’s name for the offset obligations in the Rafale deal.