Rafale deal didn’t go through in the UPA era as ‘kickback’ demands were not met?

The ‘scam’ allegation over Rafale deal has now come full circle and is starting to bite the party that first claimed it. While Congress, especially its President Rahul Gandhi, has been claiming that a scam is involved in the deal between India and France to buy Rafale jets, the twin-engine Multi-Role Combat Aircraft from Dassault, now it is being rumoured that there was an ‘attempted scam’ over Rafale deal during the Congress era itself.

This aspect came to light when columnist and scientist Anand Ranganathan asked a couple of questions to Defense Minister Nirmala Sitaraman over the Rafale deal. He asked:

“There are some people who say that the Rafale deal did not go through during the UPA because there were some demands of kickbacks that were denied by Dassault. Do you think there is any strength to this rumour?”

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To this, Defence Minister N Sitharaman said:

“You said it’s a rumour and I would like to see how far this rumour goes. One thing is there, during UPA, middlemen were the important actors for any procurement related matters, now there are no middlemen. So, with that said, we will wait and see”.

In the short video that Anand posted, he also asked the Defense Minister if the government will probe these allegations of ‘kickback demands derailing Rafale deal’ during UPA era, to which Ms Sitraraman replied that first, she will have to see if the ‘rumours gain strength’.

Ms Sitaraman though categorically rejected that there was an element of any scam in the Rafale deal executed by the Narendra Modi government.

OpIndia asked Anand about these allegations of demands of kickbacks during the UPA era and if he thinks there could be an element of truth in it.

“I want to know the truth myself, and this is why I asked the question,” Anand told OpIndia, “Yes, there have been rumours that the Rafale deal didn’t go through during the UPA era because there were some expectations of kickbacks that Dassault was not willing to pay. These could be plain malicious rumours, and that’s why I put the question to the defence minister.”

Anand said that such rumours can’t be outrightly rejected because kickbacks in defence deals are not a new phenomenon.

“Forget defence deals, in UPA era, you had kickbacks in almost everything. Walmart officially budgeted for lobbying, which can be argued to be as good kickbacks since lobbying is illegal in India, for their operations in this part of the region. We can also take the example of the Agusta Westland chopper scam where Christian Michel is accused of organising bribes in exchange for a 2007 contract for the purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters to be used by leaders including the President, Prime Minister and former prime ministers”.

Interestingly, after UAE agreed to extradite Christian Michel of Agusta Westland scam to India, veteran journalist J Gopikrishnan made another startling revelation. He claimed that Christian Michel who is alleged to have organised bribes in exchange for a 2007 purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters during the UPA era, was once the agent of Rafale’s firm Dassault in India. He asserted that if India gets Michel, it might turn into a “nightmare for many”.

After the news of Dubai agreeing to extradite Michel to India, the Congress had hurriedly decided to approach the Central Vigilance Committee (CVC) to raise the Rafale issue.

As of now, it appears that the allegations of a scam by either side are merely political rhetoric as neither side has been able to cite any proof in support.

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