No violations in Rafale deal, says Dassault Aviation after report claims payments to middleman
A French website claimed that the French aviation company paid millions of euros to offshore accounts of an Indian middleman to influence the deal.
Aviation company and the makers of Rafale fighter jets Dassault Aviation on Thursday said that there were no violations reported by French anti-corruption agencies in its deal to supply 36 aircraft to India. The company made the claim in a statement released in response to reports alleging corruption in the deal.
Asserting that the company acts “in strict compliance” with France’s anti-corruption legislation, the Sapin 2 law, Dassault Aviation noted that the deal with India was established on a “government-to-government basis”. It suggested that the company was not involved in any wrongdoing as the deal took place under the purview of the Indian and French government.
“This contract, as well as the offsets corresponding contract, meet the criteria established by these regulations and are being executed in full transparency between the various government and industrial partners,” Dassault Aviation said in the statement.
The statement came on the back of a three-part report published on French website Mediapart, which claimed that Dassault Aviation and French defence electronics firm Thales paid millions of euros to Sushen Gupta, an Indian middleman, to influence the Rafale deal.
Notably, Gupta was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in March 2019, on charges of money laundering. The charges against him relate to the 2013 corruption scandal, dubbed “Choppergate”, which centred on a 550-million-euro contract for the sale to India of helicopters manufactured by the Italian-British firm AgustaWestland.
In a report on Thursday, Mediapart claimed that ED documents revealed that Dassault Aviation and Thales paid Gupta in secret commissions to offshore accounts and shell companies, using inflated invoices for software consulting.
These payments were on top of a contract with Dassault for making replica models of Rafale jets that have never been seen, worth 1 million euros, which was revealed in the first of the website’s series of reports. The second part reported on how a French prosecutor overruled a deputy in deciding to not pursue an anti-corruption investigation into the Rafale deal, citing the “the interests of France.”
In the statement released on Thursday, Dassault Aviation noted that the company and India’s Reliance Group established the Dassault Reliance Aerospace in 2017 and built a plant in Nagpur in a joint venture.
However, the statement makes no mention of Sushen Gupta, or the alleged inflated payments mentioned by Mediapart in its reports.
Meanwhile in a statement on Friday, Gupta’s legal counsel denied any involvement of his client in the Rafale deal. He said that an individual could not have influenced a government-to-government transaction. He called the Mediapart report “fabricated and factually incorrect”.
The Rafale deal
The Rafale jets are India’s first major acquisition of fighter planes in over two decades. The deal came four years after the Narendra Modi government signed a pact with France for a total of 36 units of the fighter jet. All the 36 jets are to be delivered by 2022.
The deal had become a major political topic during the Lok Sabha election campaign in 2019. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, among others, had accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of treason and corruption multiple times, and alleged that he had acted as a middleman for industrialist Anil Ambani in the deal.
The first Rafale fighter jet was handed over to the Indian Air Force on October 8, 2019, in France, in a ceremony attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. The jets were formally inducted into the fleet on September 10.