New Delhi: A massive political fight has been reignited by French portal Mediapart’s new report on alleged kickbacks paid between 2007 and 2012 to a middleman involved in the Rafale deal, and on the CBI allegedly failing to investigate these allegations despite receiving documents.
The ruling BJP today attacked the Congress over alleged corruption on its watch before 2014. At the same time, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra led their party in accusing the government of a “cover-up” on corruption.
“INC (Indian National Congress) means ‘I need Commission’. It would not be an over-projection that during the UPA tenure, they had a deal within every deal and they could still not strike a deal,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
“Let Rahul Gandhi answer from Italy – why did you and your party try to spread lies about Rafale all these years? Now it has been revealed that their own government was in power in 2007 to 2012 when commissions were paid, in which a middleman’s name has also come up,” Mr Patra said.
The Congress said: “The latest revelations in Operation Cover-up reveal the dubious nexus between (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi government-CBI-Enforcement Directorate to bury the Rafale Corruption.”
Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi also posted tweets sharing news articles on the Rafale report.
Mediapart has said in its latest report that French plane-maker Dassault paid at least 7.5 million euros (nearly ₹ 650 million) in bribes to a middleman to help secure the sale of 36 Rafale fighter jets to India and that Indian agencies like the CBI and Enforcement Directorate failed to investigate it despite the presence of documents.
Mediapart, which been investigating allegations of corruption in the ₹ 59,000 crore Rafale deal, said the bulk of the alleged payments were made before 2013.
Mediapart has published alleged false invoices that it says enabled Dassault to pay secret commissions to alleged middleman Sushen Gupta. “Despite the existence of these documents, the Indian federal police has decided not to pursue the affair and has not begun an investigation,” the portal says. According to its report, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate have had proof since October 2018 that Dassault paid kickbacks to Sushen Gupta to secure the sale of Rafale jets.
The evidence, says the report, is present in confidential documents that surfaced in another corruption case being investigated by the two agencies – the scandal involving the supply of VVIP choppers by AgustaWestland.
Mediapart’s investigation on “Rafale papers” triggered a judicial investigation in France in July into allegations of corruption, influence peddling and favouritism.
Sushen Gupta is accused of receiving bribes from AgustaWestland through a shell company registered in Mauritius, Interstellar Technologies. To facilitate investigations, Mauritius agreed to send documents related to the company to the CBI and Enforcement Directorate.
The documents were sent to the CBI on October 11, 2018, just a week after the agency received an official complaint alleging corruption in the Rafale deal. “However, the CBI decided not to open an investigation, even though just seven days after that corruption complaint was filed it received information proving that secret commissions had indeed been paid,” Mediapart said.
According to the portal, this is when they discovered that Sushen Gupta also acted as an intermediary for Dassault over the Rafale deal. The report says Gupta’s Interstellar Technologies “received at least 7.5 million euros from the French aviation firm between 2007 and 2012, thanks to IT contracts that were clearly overbilled, and from which most of the money was discreetly sent to Mauritius using a system of alleged false invoices. Some of these invoices even got the name of the French company wrong, referring to “Dassult” Aviation.
Mediapart says the Mauritian documents cover the period of the bid process that was eventually won by Dassault (2007 – 2012), when the Congress was in power. “Whereas the complaint filed on October 4, 2018, targets suspicious activity that took place from 2015, when the deal was being finalised on the authority of the current BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” says the site.
The invoices and bank statements obtained by the CBI show that Sushen Gupta’s shell company received 914,488 euros between 2002 and 2006. Dassault and the alleged middleman soon set up a new and even more opaque financial route to channel payments. The aviation company started buying overbilled IT services through the Singapore-based company Interdev, which was portrayed as the “system integrator for Dassault in Asia”, says Mediapart, adding that it was simply a shell company without any real activity, and was managed by a front man for the Gupta family, currently believed to be in South Africa.