A French investigative journal that reported Francois Hollande's startling revelation on the Rafale deal has told NDTV that they have enough evidence to back their story that quoted the former French president saying it was the Indian government that proposed Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence as the India partner for the multi-million dollar fighter jet contract.
Edwy Plenel, editor-in-chief of French journal Mediapart, said Mr Hollande made the disclosure when they were investigating a possible link between Reliance Entertainment producing a film with his partner and actor Julie Gayet and Mr Ambani landing the Rafale deal. The French website followed up reports that said Mr Ambani's company had entered into a deal for the film just two days before the former French president came to New Delhi in 2016 as the Republic Day chief guest and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for delivering 36 Rafale aircraft.
"We asked... if there's possibly a conflict of interest as Ms Gayet could have received money from Mr Ambani, who was pitching for the (Rafale) deal. Francois Hollande denied any such conflict of interest and said: 'The choice (to pick Reliance) was dictated by Indian government and we did not have a choice'," Mr Plenel told NDTV.
Denying the charge, a defence ministry spokesperson tweeted that the Mediapart report "is being verified" and that "neither GoI (government of India) nor the French Government had any say in the commercial decision."
Mr Plenel, however, said his publication stood by the story. He added that they have a declaration and all the details of the interview.
When asked if he got any indication from Mr Hollande as to who from India asked for Reliance Defence to be picked as the offset component partner, Mr Plenel said "We didn't ask that because our investigation was about conflict of interest."
The Indian government has repeatedly said it was Dassault that had picked the Anil Ambani group as its India partner and that the government had nothing to do with what was essentially a commercial pact between two private parties.
The Anil Ambani-led group is manufacturing aerospace components as part of the offset component of the Rafale deal. The clause requires Rafale manufacturer Dassault to ensure that business worth around Rs. 30,000 crores is generated for the Indian defence system. Reliance Defence is not making components for the Rafales ordered by India but is building assemblies for Dassault business jets.
The report is set to escalate a massive row in India as the opposition alleges crony capitalism in the nomination of Reliance Defence, since the group has no prior experience in aerospace manufacturing. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has been attacking the PM over the Rafale deal, tweeted to say "the PM has betrayed India".
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