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Rahul says Modi gave prior info on Rafale deal to Ambani; Reliance Defence denies charge

File photo of Rahul Gandhi
File photo of Rahul Gandhi
Congress President Rahul Gandhi today alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had shared information about the Rafale deal to Anil Ambani before it was announced in April 2015 and sought criminal proceedings against him immediately on this basis, but the industrialist denied the charge.
 
Addressing a press conference at the party's headquarters here, Gandhi said Modi had acted "like Anil Ambani's middleman" in the matter, citing an e-mail that he said showed that the industrialist had visited the then French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian's office in Paris two weeks before the Prime Minister announced a deal to buy 36 Rafale jet fighters in a fly-away condition from France.
 
The e-mail, sent by Nicolas Chamussy, an official of Airbus Industrie and sent to three recipients, on March 28, 2015, said that Ambani had visited the Minister's office earlier that week. He said the meeting was confidential and planned with very short notice
 
"Told them he intends to work with AH (Airbus Helicopters) on commercial helos and then on defence. Mentioned a MoU in preparation and the intention to sign during the PM visit," the e-mail said.
 
"Told him that on our side we are checking the right way forward, there are other potential partners. Suggest we send him a short note about our position," he said.
 
Le Drian, who served as Defence Minister from April 2014 to May 2017, is now the Foreign Minister of France.
 
Gandhi interpreted the e-mail and the reference in it to an 'MoU in preparation' to mean that Ambani was aware of the agreement that India was to reach with France on the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation in a fly-away condition. 
 
Reliance Defence, a part of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group of companies, however, said in a statement that the leaked email was about Airbus helicopters and had nothing to do with Rafale. 
 
"Purported email being referred by the Congress Party is regarding the discussion between Airbus and Reliance Defence for Civil & Defence Helicopter Programs under ‘Make in India'," a statement from the company said.
 
"Discussion on proposed MoU was clearly with reference to cooperation between Airbus Helicopter and Reliance. It had no connection whatsoever with Government to Government Agreement between France and India for 36 Rafale aircraft," the statement added.
 
Modi, who visited France on April 9-11, 2015, announced the Rafale decision on April 10 in Paris, junking in the process the deal that the previous Congress-led UPA government had been negotiating for years for purchasing 18 Rafale fighter jets in fly-away condition and manufacturing 108 more in India with HAL as Dassault's partner under a technology-sharing agreement.
 
Ambani's Reliance Defence is one of the offset partners selected by Dassault to fulfil its obligation to invest 50% of the deal value (estimated at Rs. 60,000 crore) in India. Reliance Defence's exact share in the offset contracts worth about Rs. 30,000 crore is not clear. Since all the 36 aircraft in the deal are to be made in France, HAL has lost out on what could have been a lucrative contract.
 
Gandhi told a press conference at the Congress headquarters here that the e-mail gave rise to questions about how Ambani was aware of the deal that Modi was planning to announce when then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, then Foreign Secretary S, Jaishankar and top HAL officials were unaware of it, going by statements made by them at that time.
 
Alleging that the only person who could have informed Ambani about the impending deal was Modi himself, he said the industrialist in turn had talked about what was one of the largest defence contracts ever to French officials.
 
The Congress President said Ambani had set up a new company soon after his conversation in Paris.
 
"So, there is no clearer way of putting this. Anil Ambani has put it beautifully. He mentions an MoU is under preparation and the intention to sign it during the Prime Minister's visit. The Prime Minister is acting as Anil Ambani's middleman for anyone who wants to read it," he said.
 
"The Prime Minister needs to explain this to the people, tell us what is happening," he said.
 
"This is a defence matter. The Prime Minister is in violation of the Official Secrets Act. Criminal proceedings must start immediately on this basis," he said. 
 
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The Congress has been alleging corruption in high places in the Rafale deal and has been accusing the Government of violating the Defence Procurement Procedure and other rules.
 
"Earlier, it was a matter of corruption, of procedures, Now it is an Official Secrets Act matter. This is now treason, nothing less. Narendra Modi is doing what spies do. He is informing somebody of a defence matter. He is not like you. He is under oath to protect these secrets, and he has given these secrets to Anil Ambani, who knows that the biggest defence deal in the world is going to be signed in ten days...This itself is criminal, this itself will put the Prime Minister in jail," he alleged.
 
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took strong exception to Gandhi's allegations, especially his use of the word "treason". Union Law and Justice Minister and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said his party had never used such words against Congress leaders such as the late Indira Gandhi and late Rajiv Gandhi, who had also faced corruption charges.
 
He said Gandhi had "thrown muck at his own face by abusing our honest Prime Minister."
 
"We will expose his lies before the public," he said.
 
Prasad described Gandhi's allegations as the height of "shamelessness and irresponsibility" and accused him of acting at the behest of Dassault Aviation's rivals.
 
He also said that the e-mail was from Airbus, which itself is under the needle of suspicion in deals finalised during the UPA regime.
 
Prasad also wondered how Gandhi had got hold of the European company's internal communication.
 
NNN

(Our News Desk can be contacted at desk@netindian.in)

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