Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman rebuts Rafale allegations on France visit

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India’s defence minister confronted new questions Thursday over a 2016 deal to purchase Rafale fighter jets from France, which critics say unfairly profited a key backer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Speaking at a briefing in Paris, Nirmala Sitharaman reiterated the federal government’s declare that it had no thought the jets’ builder, Dassault Aviation, would workforce up with Reliance Group, run by Anil Ambani.

Several experiences say Dassault was compelled to decide on Reliance by Modi, regardless of its having nearly no expertise within the aviation sector.

On the eve of Sitharaman’s visit French investigative web site Mediapart quoted the notes of a gathering between Dassault administration and employees’ representatives which described the selection of Reliance as “imperative and compulsory”.

“We are very clear: With the government of France, we agreed to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft in flyaway condition,” Sitharaman mentioned.

“And in an intergovernmental agreement, there are no mentions of any individual firms,” she mentioned.

Pressed on whether or not India would go forward with the deal amid a refrain of “crony capitalism” claims and complaints filed by Indian anti-corruption teams, the minister adopted a extra combative tone.

“It is more for the Companies which have chosen A, B or C as their partners to answer questions if there are any,” she mentioned.

Dassault on Wednesday contested the Mediapart report, saying it had “freely chosen” to type a three way partnership with Reliance.

But that stance was contradicted not too long ago by former French president Francois Hollande, beneath whose watch the Rafale deal was signed.

Hollande mentioned final month that France had “no choice” however to affix with Reliance after it was pushed by the Indian authorities — feedback which have been seized upon by Indian opposition events.

Under Indian defence procurement guidelines, international corporations successful contracts should “offset” or reinvest half the whole worth — on this case round eight billion euros — in joint ventures or purchases with Indian Companies.

Dassault Aviation’s CEO Eric Trappier instructed AFP {that a} joint manufacturing unit with Reliance within the central Indian metropolis of Nagpur represented “around 10 percent” of the roughly 4 billion euros of offset investments.

“We’re in talks with about 100 Indian firms, including around 30 with which we’ve already confirmed partnerships,” he mentioned.

Dassault negotiated for years with India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the order, with the jets being collectively inbuilt India.

But these talks have been cancelled after Modi took workplace, when he determined to buy the jets straight from France.

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