Sunday, October 24, 2021

Top Court Gave ‘Clean Chit’ To Indo-French Rafale Deal; What Is It That Paris Is Probing Now?

The National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) in France has ordered a probe into the sale of 36 Dassault Rafale jets to India. The investigation will look into the allegations of “corruption” and “favoritism” in the $9.2 billion deal signed in 2016. 

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It is believed that the probe orders were issued after reports by French investigative website Mediapart indicated possible corruption, favoritism, and other financial irregularities in the deal for the 36 Rafale fighter jets, manufactured by French aerospace firm, Dassault Aviation.

The request for opening a judicial probe into the alleged financial irregularities was filed by Sherpa, an NGO which looks into financial crimes.

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Indian Rafales leaving French airspace on April 21, 2021. (Image: IAF)

According to the Mediapart report, the Agence Francaise Anticorruption (AFA) had revealed that Dassault Aviation had paid one million Euros to Defsys Solutions, and subsequently, 50 models of the Rafale jets were provided as “gifts”.

The models of the Rafale are on display at the bases and commands of the Indian Air Force (IAF). It is reported that only the model put on display at the Air headquarters was made in France, the others were later made in India.

It was reported that, during its investigations, the AFA found an expenditure of 508,925 euros in the accounts of Dassault Aviation as “gifts to clients”.

The AFA found the amount to be disproportionate and noted that “the sum is indeed huge for a gift. Though French law does not set out precise limits, legal precedents suggest that giving a watch or an expensive meal costing several hundred euros can be enough to constitute corruption”.

What India’s Top Court Said On Rafale Deal

In India, the opposition Congress party has hailed France’s decision to order a judicial probe into the Rafale deal.

The opposition along with two prominent former Union ministers, top lawyers, and activists had alleged that the 2016 deal has a 50 percent offset clause, a large part of which is to be executed by Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Defence.

File:Rafale - RIAT 2009 (3751416421).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Rafale Jet – Wikimedia Commons

The matter of “overpriced” jets had reached India’s Supreme Court, which gave a clean chit to the Modi-led government over procurement of the jets in its December 14, 2018 verdict.

The petition was filed by former Union ministers Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha, top lawyer Prashant Bhushan among others, only to be rejected by Supreme Court.

In its verdict, the top court made observations on three critical issues — the decision-making process, comparative pricing, and the choice of Indian offset partners (IOP), according to The Tribune.

On decision-making, the court stated, “We are satisfied that there is no occasion to really doubt the process, and even if minor deviations have occurred, that would not result in either setting aside the contract or requiring a detailed scrutiny by the court.”

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On the matter of comparative pricing, the court ruled, “It is certainly not the job of this court to carry out a comparison of the pricing details in matters like the present. We say no more as the material has to be kept in a confidential domain.”

Referring to issue offset partner, the top court noted, “We do not find any substantial material on record to show that this is a case of commercial favoritism to any party by the Indian Government, as the option to choose the IOP does not rest with the Indian Government.”

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