Rafale deal: French judge opens criminal investigation against corruption

In a setback to the Indian and French governments that got into a 7.8 billion euro deal for 36 Rafale fighter air crafts, a French judge has been appointed to lead a judicial investigation into its alleged corruption and favoritism, a French media website said in a report.

Mediapart said that a “highly sensitive probe” into the 2016 inter-governmental deal  was formally opened on June 14 following a decision by the financial crimes branch of the French public prosecution services, the PNF.

In April, Mediapart claimed “millions of euros of hidden commissions” were given to a go-between who helped Dassault conclude the sale, of which “some… could have been given as bribes” to Indian officials.

Dassault retorted that no wrong-doing was flagged in the group’s audits, AFP reported.

After the reports, France’s Sherpa NGO, which specialises in financial crime, filed an official complaint for “corruption” and “influence peddling” among other accusations, prompting an investigating magistrate to be designated to probe the deal. Sherpa had already asked for an investigation into the deal in 2018, but the PNF took no action.

In this first complaint, the NGO had denounced the fact that Dassault chose Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group as its Indian partner, who is a close aide to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dassault had initially won a contract in 2012 to supply 126 jets to India and had been negotiating with Indian aerospace company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). By March 2015, those talks had almost reached a conclusion, according to Dassault.

But in April of that year, after Modi paid an official visit to France, the talks suddenly broke down to general surprise. It was then the Reliance Group, which has no experience in aeronautics, replaced HAL and finalised a new contract for 36 jets.

Sherpa’s new complaint with the tribunal cites “corruption”, “influence peddling”, “money laundering”, “favouritism” and undue tax waivers surrounding the deal. According to Mediapart, the PNF has confirmed that the newly opened investigation will focus on all four of the alleged crimes.