PARIS: (APF) The national financial prosecutors’ office (PNF) said Friday that a French court has been entrusted with examining a disputed multibillion-dollar sale of Rafale fighter aircraft to India in 2016.

The contract between the Indian government and French aircraft maker Dassault for 36 jets, worth 7.8 billion euros ($9.3 billion), has long been dogged by suspicions of corruption.

The PNF initially refused to examine the sale, causing Mediapart, a French investigative website, to accuse it and the French Anti-corruption Agency of “burying” concerns about the September 2016 purchase.

In April, Mediapart reported that a go-between who assisted Dassault in closing the deal was paid “millions of euros in secret fees,” some of which “may have been delivered as bribes” to Indian authorities.

Dassault replied that the group’s audits found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Following the revelations, the Sherpa NGO in France, which specialises in financial crime, filed an official complaint alleging “corruption” and “influence peddling,” among other things, triggering the appointment of an investigative judge to look into the matter.

In 2018, Sherpa requested an inquiry of the purchase, but the PNF did nothing.

The NGO has previously complained about Dassault’s choice of Reliance Group as its Indian partner, a conglomerate led by billionaire Anil Ambani, a close ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dassult had secured a deal to deliver 126 planes to India in 2012 and had been negotiating with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, an Indian aerospace company (HAL).

According to Dassault, such discussions were nearly completed by March 2015.

However, after Modi’s formal visit to France in April of that year, the discussions abruptly broke down, much to the astonishment of everyone.

HAL was replaced by Reliance Group, which has no experience in aeronautics, and a new deal for 36 aircraft was signed.

Reliance had sponsored a film co-produced by Julie Gayet, the partner of then-President Francois Hollande, at the time of the discussions in January 2016.

This, according to Sherpa, may be considered “influence peddling.”

Hollande denied any conflict of interest, claiming that France had no influence in Dassault’s Indian partner.

The French daily Le Monde also discovered that, at the time the transaction was being discussed, France cancelled a 143.7-million-euro tax adjustment aimed at a French business owned by Reliance.

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