The Congress on Saturday refuted the claims of Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad that French firm Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale jets, had signed a contract with Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Limited in 2012 to execute the offset contract and described it as "totally false".
"This is totally false and utter rubbish being dished out, unfortunately by Defence Ministry and the Law Minister," Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said at a press conference in Delhi.
He said that "no such Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was ever signed between Dassault Aviation and Mukesh Ambani's company".
"They have the records. We challenge the Law Minister and Defence Minister (Nirmala Sitharaman) to make any such record public. As there is no record, the lies would be exposed," Mr Surjewala said.
Mr Surjewala's remarks came soon after Mr Prasad recounted the history of the deal from 2006 and said there was contemporaneous evidence to show that the choice of offset partner, a Reliance company, was made in 2012 itself during the UPA rule, much before Modi became Prime Minister.
"There is evidence available that a proper MoU existed between Dassault and Reliance industry as early as on February 13, 2013, that means one year, four months before we came to power," he said.
Mr Prasad said the offset clause was finalised by the UPA in 2012 and the choice of the private firm in place of HAL was entirely that of Dassault. "In fact, the UPA had ditched the HAL," he said.
Mr Prasad was reacting to the raging controversy over the 36 fighter deal with France. His remarks came amid media reports of former French President Francois Hollande claiming that the Indian government suggested the private firm for the Rafale offset contract.
The Congress leader attacking the Narendra Modi-led government said, "Truth is that, Dassault Aviation had entered into a work-share arrangement with public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). And it is proved in annual report 2013-14, in which Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault, states that 'our main partner is HAL'."
He claimed that on March 25, 2015 (just 17 days before Modi's announced the purchase of 36 Rafale on April 10, 2015), Dassualt CEO in the presence of Chief of Indian Air Force and HAL Chairman stated that negotiations with HAL were at final stage and contract finalisation and signature would come very soon.
"On March 13, 2014, a work-share agreement was signed between HAL and Dassault Aviation," Surjewala claimed.
The deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets from France was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 and signed in 2016.
The UPA government was earlier negotiating a deal to procure 126 Rafale jets, with 18 to come in flyaway condition and 108 to be manufactured by HAL under licence.
The Modi government has repeatedly said it was Dassault that chose its India partner for offsets and that the government had no say in the deal.