After French report on Rafale payment, Congress demands independent inquiry

New Delhi: The Congress on Monday demanded an independent inquiry and posed five questions to the Narendra Modi government after a French journal alleged the Rafale deal involved payment of 1.1 million euros to an Indian middleman, and asked if the latest revelation has vitiated India’s biggest defence deal.

Referring to the first of a three-part series by Mediapart, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “Was the payment of €1.1 million shown by Dassault as ‘gifts to clients’ in reality a commission paid to middleman for the Rafale Deal? How can ‘middleman’ and ‘payment of commission’ be permitted in a ‘government to government defence contract’ or in any defence procurement in India in violation of the mandatory defence procurement procedure?” Surjewala said.

Arguing that the latest media report vitiated the Rafale deal, Surjewala said the revelation entailed imposition of heavy financial penalties on Dassault, banning of the company, registration of an FIR and other penal consequences.

“Does it now not require a full and independent investigation into India’s biggest defence deal to find out as to how much bribery and commission in reality, if any, was paid and to whom in the Indian government?” the Congress said, asking if Prime Minister Narendra Modi would answer to the nation on this.

According to the French report, the country’s anti-corruption agency AFA found the payment was made in October 2018 and questioned Dassault, the manufacturer of Rafale fighter jets. The report said that the jet-makers have not been able to answer the queries.

The Congress demanded that the standard procedure—lodging an FIR, independent investigation and related moves—must follow and reminded the government that during the UPA rule, then defence minister AK Antony had followed the stipulated procedure in the case of Agusta Westland.

The Opposition party said that defence procurement has an “integrity clause” that says there can be no middleman or payment of commission or bribe. “Any evidence of middleman or commission or bribery has serious penal consequences of banning of the supplier defence company, cancellation of contract, registration of FIR and imposition of heavy financial penalties on the defence supplier company,” said Surjewala.

The National Democratic Alliance’s decision to enter a $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

The deal has become controversial, with the Opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is ₹1,670 crore for each, three times the initial bid of ₹526 crore by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL.

The NDA has not disclosed details of the price, but the UPA deal, struck in 2012, was not a viable one, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar has previously said, implying that it would have never been closed and that, therefore, any comparison is moot. Indeed, the UPA was not able to close the deal till 2014, largely over discussions related to pricing of items not included in the initial bid.

The NDA government has said that it cannot disclose the details of the price on two counts: a confidentiality agreement with France, and the strategic reason of not showing its hand to India’s enemies; however, it said that the current deal also includes customised weaponry.

The deal is also controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claimed the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity for an offset deal. Both the government and Reliance have repeatedly denied this. (Agency)

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