In a stunning twist in the years-long controversy over the deal between India and France to procure the Rafale multi-role fighter, a new report published by Mediapart on Sunday stated that evidently false invoices enabled French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation to pay at least 7.5 million euros in alleged secret commissions to a middleman during the negotiations for the deal at a time when the UPA government was in-charge. The report named one Sushen Gupta whose Mauritius-based company Interstellar Technologies was allegedly paid by Dassault during the years 2007 to 2012 when the deal was being negotiated.
At that time, the deal had involved negotiations for 126 Rafale fighter jets, 108 of which were to be manufactured in India with technology transfer, which never actually transpired as the Modi government pivoted instead to an inter-governmental deal to buy 36 fighters after coming into power. The report also claims that the CBI and ED have had documents pertaining to these illicit payments since 2018, having come across them while probing the AgustaWestland 'Choppergate' scam, but have not probed into the alleged payments in the Rafale deal.
The report states, "It involves offshore companies, dubious contracts and “false” invoices. Mediapart can reveal that detectives from the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI), and colleagues from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have had proof since October 2018 that French aviation firm Dassault paid at least 7.5 million euros (equivalent to just under 650 million rupees) in secret commissions to middleman Sushen Gupta. Yet it has decided not to pursue the affair and has not begun an investigation".
The report alleges that Gupta's Mauritian company 'Interstellar Technologies' received at least 7.5 mn euros from Dassault aviation between 2007 and 2012. The payment was allegedly done via 'overbilled IT contracts' from Dassault, states the report. Gupta's same company 'Interstellar Technologies' was also allegedly used for kickbacks in the AgustaWestland Chopper scam and is now under CBI and ED scanner.
Citing the report, BJP I-T cell chief Amit Malviya alleged that the illicit payments to Sushen Gupta were done over the period 2004-2013 to sell Rafale. "So UPA was collecting kickbacks but couldn’t close the deal? NDA later scrapped it and got into a contract with the French Govt, which upset Rahul Gandhi no end," tweeted Amit Malviya.
Dassault paid €14.6 Mn to intermediary Sushen Gupta over the period 2004-2013 to sell Rafale.— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) November 8, 2021
So UPA was collecting kickbacks but couldn’t close the deal? NDA later scrapped it and got into a contract with the French Govt, which upset Rahul Gandhi no end.https://t.co/TlFPrbNgHs
As per Mediapart.fr's report in July, France's anti-corruption agency Agence Française Anticorruption (AFA) found a suspicious payment of 1 million euros by Dassault Aviation to an Indian middleman Defsys Solutions for 50 models of Rafale aircraft which were to be given as “gifts" in 2016. The middleman is now accused of money laundering in India in the VVIP chopper scam. The report states that AFA had allegedly pulled up Dassault after no proof was provided for the manufacturing of these aircraft models yet, adding that AFA 'dropped' the matter citing that the “query was settled” after Rafale explained the process to it. A French judge has been appointed to conduct a judicial investigation into allegations. Indian govt has dismissed these allegations terming it 'baseless' and may be due to "corporate rivalry" in France.
Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi had raised questions on the Rafale deal in Parliament on why only 36 aircraft were being acquired when 126 were needed. On the pricing of the Rafale jets, he had asked why it was changed from Rs 526 crore each to Rs 1600 crore each and questioned choosing Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence for the joint venture with Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL) over HAL. These allegations were denied by then-Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, affirming that no government approvals were required for the joint venture between two private companies. Moreover, the Supreme Court dismissed all the petitions seeking a probe into the alleged irregularities in the deal and gave a clean chit to the Union government on the deal.