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The National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) confirmed, on Friday, to AFP the information published by Mediapart according to which it had taken, on June 14, an introductory indictment seizing an investigating judge of this file which has been raising for several years the turmoil in India. The Sherpa association had filed, on April 22, a complaint with the constitution of civil party in Paris in particular for suspicions of “corruption” and “active and passive influence peddling”.
A French investigating judge was seized on June 14 on suspicion of “corruption” around the sale, in 2016, of 36 Rafale planes to India, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office said on Friday, July 2, confirming information from Médiapart. This judicial information was triggered after investigations by the investigation site and a complaint with the constitution of a civil party from the NGO Sherpa.
At the end of 2018, the association had filed a first complaint so that the PNF investigates this sale dating from September 2016 for an amount of 7.8 billion euros. The NGO denounced in particular the choice of Reliance, Dassault’s Indian partner in this sale and company of a businessman close to the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
Dassault won a tender in 2012 to supply 126 aircraft and has since negotiated with Indian aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). Negotiations concluded “at 95%” in March 2015, according to Dassault. But the following month, after an official visit to France by Narendra Modi, negotiations broke down to everyone’s surprise.
Reliance Group, a private company with no experience in the aeronautics industry, was then imposed to the detriment of HAL to finalize a new contract for the delivery of 36 aircraft.
In January 2016, at the time of the final negotiations, Reliance Group had financed a film co-produced by Julie Gayet, companion of the then president, François Hollande. A possible “influence peddling”, suspects Sherpa.
Denial of France
The former head of state defended himself from any conflict of interest, asserting that France had “no choice” of Dassault’s Indian partner, causing a number of reactions in India. Jean-Yves Le Drian, current French Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Defense of the Socialist President, had insisted that Paris had not been subjected to “any pressure” from New Delhi.
In April 2019, The world had also revealed that France had canceled, in 2015, a tax adjustment totaling 143.7 million euros targeting a French company belonging to Reliance Group, at the same time that this sale was being negotiated.
A close associate of Anil Ambani, boss of Reliance, had boasted to the newspaper of having met, with the Indian businessman, Emmanuel Macron in his office as Minister of the Economy at the beginning of the year 2015 to settle the tax dispute there. The PNF had dismissed Sherpa’s first denunciation in June 2019, without opening a preliminary investigation.
But in April, Médiapart accused in a series of articles this prosecution specializing in the fight against financial offenses and the French Anti-Corruption Agency (AFA) for having “buried” the suspicions surrounding this controversial sale. According to the news site, the former PNF chief Eliane Houlette refused to investigate this large-scale aeronautical sale, against the advice of his deputy.
“This file was closed without follow-up for lack of infringement,” replied the PNF, while the AFA did not wish to react.
Mediapart also mentioned “millions of euros in kickbacks” paid to an intermediary suspected of having helped Dassault to close the sale, of which “a part (…) could have been returned in the form of bribes” to Indian officials. Dassault replied that “no violation (had) been reported” in the context of the controls to which the group is subject.
“The appearances of a state scandal”
Following these articles, Sherpa therefore filed on April 22 a complaint with the constitution of civil party in Paris for suspicion of “corruption” and “active and passive influence peddling”, concealment and laundering of these offenses, as well as “concussion” and “concussion of favoritism”.
Taking note of this complaint, which allows the quasi-automatic designation of an examining magistrate, the PNF took, on June 14, an introductory indictment opening this judicial information on the qualifications “referred to by the complaint of the Sherpa association “.
Despite its classification in June 2019 of the association’s report, the PNF therefore does not oppose the latter’s new request. It is now up to the investigating judge seized to launch the investigations or to issue an order to signify his refusal to tackle it.
“It is an important first step towards the manifestation of the truth in a file which already presents all the appearances of a scandal of state”, reacted with AFP Friday evening the lawyers of Sherpa, William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth.