Is PM Narendra Modi shielding Anil Ambani?

MUMBAI: While the French Government has begun a judicial probe into the Rs. 59,000 crore Rafale fighter jet deal with India inked on June 14, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is accused of shielding the guilty including industrialist Anil Ambani, who is stated to be a partner of Dassault Aviation.

The probe was following reports in the Paris-based news website 'Mediapart', over the past two months that exposed a number of possible financial crimes in the Rafale deal in a series of investigations called “Rafale Papers” 

In its latest report of June 2, 2021, Mediapart says, "In this latest of a series of investigations about the secret dealings behind the contract, Mediapart reveals how Dassault provided a remarkably generous financial gift to its local industrial partner Reliance Group, owned by Anil Ambani, a close friend of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi."

Following the development, Congress Party chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala on Saturday urged Modi to come forward and order a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal. The principal opposition has been alleging that former French president Francois Hollande has admitted that the Anil Ambani group was imposed as a partner of Dassault by the Modi government.

Congress has alleged that a deal for the purchase of the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) at a cost of Rs. 526 crore for each aircraft was finalised by the UPA government. Whereas the NDA Government on April 10, 2015, announced to purchase 36 of these jets at a cost of over Rs. 1,670 crore for the same. 

The 7.8 Billion Euro (Rs. 59 000 crore) deal in 2016 was the subject of a petition before the Supreme Court which sought a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe.

The petition had sought to inquire into how and why the Modi government replaced an earlier agreement to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, the bulk of which would be manufactured in India by the public sector company HAL – with the off-the-shelf purchase of planes with some of the allied offset benefits going to Anil Ambani’s Reliance group.

In December 2018, a three-judge Bench led by then-CJI Ranjan Gogoi had dismissed a clutch of petitions including one by senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan seeking a probe, holding there was no commercial favouritism and occasion to “really doubt the decision-making process."

Bhushan is quoted in The Wire, that the French media followed up the story, which has now led to an independent probe regarding corruption, bribery, money laundering and influence peddling involved in the deal and puts the spotlight on Anil Ambani again.

Now as per the Paris-based website 'Mediapart', the judicial probe would be conducted since the former head of the French public prosecution services’ financial crimes branch has overruled the advice, not to investigate allegations of corruption in the controversial deal. The Agence Française Anticorruption (AFA) formed in 2017 deals with all such suspicious cases.

The French media report, published on Tuesday, April 6, raises several questions about the less-than-transparent manner in which the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office, or Parquet National Financier (PNF), effectively disposed of a 2018 complaint filed by a well-known anti-corruption NGO called ‘Sherpa’.

In October 2018, Sherpa had filed a complaint alerting PNF and its former Head Éliane Houlette, about possible corruption in the deal. The complaint came in the wake of the admission by former French president Francois Hollande that the selection of the Anil Ambani group as Dassault’s partner was imposed by the Modi government. 

His admission also raised eyebrows because the Ambani group had also extended over a million euros worth of financing for a film project involving Hollande’s partner. The Mediapart alleged that the former head of the PNF Éliane Houlette, “made no serious attempts to investigate” Sherpa’s charges.

The Mediapart has documented how Dassault had agreed to pay one million euros to a middleman in India, Sushen Mohan Gupta, as a ‘gift’ for making models of the Rafale jet. Gupta is currently being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate in the Agusta Westland helicopter deal.

There was a suspicious deal between Dassault Aviation and Defsys Solutions( run by Gupta), in 2017-2018. Defsys Solutions functioned as a middleman between the Govt of India and Dassault. The Mediapart has claimed that Gupta used an IT services company called IDS, where a member of his family allegedly worked, to receive payments from Dassault. 

In response, Gupta’s legal counsel claimed that the report was incorrect since Gupta does not have any companies or bank accounts outside India and has never had any offshore dealings with Dassault, Thales or Safran as alleged.

The Congress party has raised this issue and made it a big poll issue in the runup to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, alleging corruption. Rahul Gandhi, Congress president at that time has repeatedly in all forums accused Modi of shielding Anil Ambani in the deal. The Modi government had rejected all the charges and continues to defend the deal as one of the most transparent deals in defence purchases. 


  • Unmesh Gujarathi
    Unmesh Gujarathi

    Unmesh our Editor-at-large is one of the most prolific editors with a career that spans over two decades in leading media houses like The Asian Age, The Free Press Journal, Lokmat etc. Currently, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Sprouts, a daily broadsheet. Unmesh is particularly known for his exposé that have unearthed major scandals of corruption and scoops.

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