The Supreme Court will in two weeks hear a new public interest litigation related to the corruption allegations surrounding the Rafale fighter jet deal, reported Live Law. The plea filed by Manohar Lal Sharma, an advocate, sought the court’s directions to quash the agreement to procure 36 fighter jets from French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation.
Sharma had filed the petition on April 6, after French online journal Mediapart published a three-part report on the deal. The reports alleged that an Indian middleman was secretly paid millions of euros by Dassault Aviation and defence electronics firm Thales to influence the Rafale deal. The reports also claimed that the Enforcement Directorate in India and French anti-corruption agency Agence Française Anticorruption did not take action despite spotting the irregularities.
During Monday’s hearing in the Supreme Court, Sharma requested Chief Justice of India SA Bobde to list the matter before he retires from his post on April 23.
“I am going to miss one of the finest chief justices this week,” Sharma said. “I have one request to make a last appearance before my lord. Please allow a diary number to be listed.”
Bobde thanked Sharma for the compliment, but said his wish to present the case before him cannot be a ground for listing it, Live Law reported. Without elaborating, Sharma claimed that he was being “harassed badly” and pressed for an early listing of the matter. The court suggested that the case can be listed after two weeks.
The petitioner said that the agreement to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation was an “outcome of corruption” and was “in violation of Articles 13 [laws inconsistent with or in derogation of the fundamental rights], 21 [protection of life and personal liberty] and 253 [legislation for giving effect to international agreements] of the Constitution.
“Due to political pressure, prosecution upon AFA’s report has been suspended/stayed,” the petition stated. “It is a serious offence under [Official] Secrets Act, 1923, injuries financial and defence to the country. It has violated Articles 21 and 13 of the Constitution of India.”
Sharma also sought an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the Rafale deal after registration of a First Information Report against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among others. The petition also lists Sushen Gupta, the middleman named by Mediapart in its report, and his company Defsys Solutions, as respondents in the matter.
In November 2019, the Supreme Court had dismissed review petitions challenging its December 2018 judgement which had rejected the need for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the Rafale deal. The pleas were filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, among others.
The Mediapart report
The three-part report published on Mediapart claimed that Dassault Aviation and French defence electronics firm Thales paid millions of euros to Sushen Guptato influence the Rafale deal. The French website claimed that Enforcement Directorate 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.”