A criminal complaint was lodged with the Judicial Court of Paris on 22 April last regarding the Narendra Modi government’s agreement with Dassault Aviation of France to purchase 36 Rafale combat planes for the Indian Air Force. This was posted on the website of Le Monde, France’s leading and possibly most prestigious daily newspaper.
According to Le Monde, Asso Sherpa, a French NGO known for fighting against economic crimes, has approached court. The accused as per French jurisprudence formality are named as for now as “X”. A lawyer explained: “It is the duty of the judge and investigators to identify X. Suspects could be French, Dassault and Indians.”
Among the charges against X are acts of “corruption and active and passive influence peddling; concealment of corruption, influence peddling and favouritism; active money laundering”.
Le Monde wrote: “After two unsuccessful attempts to refer the matter to the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) – a report dated October 26, 2018 closed without action, then a complaint of May 21, 2019 that went unheeded – this new offensive by the anti-corruption association aims to obtain the opening of a judicial investigation, to shed light on the conditions under which this strategic military contract at 7.9 billion euros was concluded between the French aircraft manufacturer and the government of Narendra Modi, in particular for the benefit of a friend of the Indian Prime Minister, the powerful industrialist Anil Ambani.”
It explained: “Sherpa’s complaint follows new information from Mediapart (a French investigative publication), at the beginning of April, on the payment of possible kickbacks to a sulphurous intermediary in India (allegedly Delhi-based Sushen Gupta).”
Under the French Penal Code an approved anti-corruption organisation, like Asso Sherpa, enjoys civil rights to apply to a court on offences of corruption and influence peddling and concealment or money laundering.
Le Monde said it had commented on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Congress-led government’s award of a tender to Dassault, with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited as the Indian partner, for 126 Rafale aircraft as the “contract of the century”.
It added: “But the Indian Prime Minister (Modi) finally imposed Mr Ambani, thanks to a dramatic turn of events…..which surprised even the Indian Ministry of Defence.” It continued: “This close friend of Mr Modi becomes one of the main beneficiaries, alongside other Indian companies, of the juicy offsets of the contract, of around 4 billion euros.”
Mediapart had disclosed the PNF and the French Anti-Corruption Agency (AFA) buried Sherpa’s charges “in the name of reason of state (interpreted as French interest)”. It detailed that the then PNF chief Eliane Houlette refused to pursue the case in June 2019 “against the advice of a deputy prosecutor, who was tasked with analysing the first report of Sherpa”.
Sherpa’s lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth were quoted by Le Monde as saying: “We are in a case of exceptional corruption, by the actors involved, by the stakes and by the means employed to hinder the emergence of the truth.”
They went on to state: “Two facts have been established, the corrupt flow and the self-censorship of the Anti-Corruption Agency, which, given the very strong commitment of the President of the AFA in favour of the fight against corruption, makes it possible to suppose that a political intervention has taken place. The question of obstruction of justice will necessarily arise in the context of the investigation.”
After the Mediapart expose, Dassault had commented the contract was executed “in full transparency between the various partners, both state and industrial”. But it did not deny Modi’s role. Now it will be probed by one of its country’s criminal courts.