The National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) of France has appointed a judge to investigate “corruption” and “favouritism” suspicions in the 2016 multi-billion dollar deal with India for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets, French media reports said.
In a late night report filed Saturday by French investigative website Mediapart, it said a judicial probe into suspected corruption was opened on 14 June in France over the 7.8-billion-euro Rafale contract of 2016.
French news agency AFP also reported that PNF said a French judge has been tasked with investigating “corruption” suspicions in the deal.
The new probe is an outcome of a series of reports done by Mediapart regarding the deal. Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the Rafale aircraft, has denied all corruption allegations.
Based on the reports by Mediapart, Sherpa, an NGO which works in the field giving support to victims of financial crimes, filed a complaint in April with PNF requesting the opening of a judicial investigation for corruption, favoritism and various financial offences likely to have occurred in the context of the sale of 36 combat aircraft manufactured by aviation major Dassault Aviation.
Mediapart had claimed that the Agence Française Anticorruption (AFA) found suspicious payments made to a company linked to a middleman who was arrested by India’s Enforcement Directorate in 2019 in connection with the VVIP chopper scam.
The AFA, set up in 2017 with the aim of checking whether large companies implemented the anti-corruption procedures set out under Sapin 2, the French anti-corruption law, is similar to India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). However, unlike CAG, the AFA also audits private firms.
French presidents, ministers under scanner
In its latest report, the Mediapart said that “the criminal investigation opened on June 14 and led by an independent magistrate, an investigating judge, will, among other elements, examine questions surrounding the action of former French President Francois Hollande, who was in office when the Rafale deal was inked, and current French President Emmanuel Macron, who was at that time Hollande’s economy and finance minister, as well as the then defence minister, now foreign affairs minister, Jean Yves Le Drian”.
Sherpa said that its first complaint was filed with PNF in October 2018 to bring to attention “facts which, in our opinion, should have justified the opening of an investigation”.
The NGO said it was based on a complaint filed by former Indian Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, and lawyer Prashant Bhushan with the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Earlier this year, Mediapart claimed that the former PNF head, Éliane Houlette, had shelved an investigation into alleged evidence of corruption in the Rafale jet deal despite the objection of colleagues.
It had said Houlette justified her decision to shelve the investigations as preserving “the interests of France, the workings of institutions.”
The Rs 59,000-crore Rafale deal earlier faced controversy in India with the opposition Congress claiming the Narendra Modi government had purchased the jets at an inflated cost and questioning why the offset contract was given to a private firm instead of the public-sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
In 2019, India’s Supreme Court had dismissed a batch of review petitions seeking a probe into the government’s procurement of the 36 fighter jets from France, saying there was no ground to order an FIR into the case.