The French investigative news portal, Mediapart, has claimed that there was indeed a middleman in the much-debated Rafale deal. At the very outset, the Rafale deal struck by the NDA government had come in for attack from the Opposition over the pricing of the twin-engine medium multi-role combat aircraft. The Opposition had claimed that while it was in power, it had struck a much better bargain with the same Dassault Aviation for the delivery of 126 jets at a lower price with transfer of technology to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited than what was finally agreed to in 2016 for the off-the-shelf purchase of 36 aircraft at 7.87 billion euros. The agreement was vetted by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the allegations of corruption were heard and dismissed by the Supreme Court twice, first in 2018 and then in a review petition in 2019. Now, the Mediapart investigation has dug up dirt on the deal and put a face to the allegations.
According to this online journal, French anti-corruption watchdog Agence Francais Anti-corruption in its routine audit of the contract found that Dassault had agreed to pay an Indian company — middleman Sushen Gupta’s Defsys Solutions — one million euros for producing large replicas of the Rafale jet. But, according to Mediapart, the audit did not find any proof of the replicas being actually made and that ‘the head of the French Public Prosecution Services’ financial crimes branch, Eliane Houlette, shelved investigations into the evidence of corruption behind this deal despite the contrary opinion of her colleagues’.
US national Sushen Gupta was arrested for his involvement in the UPA-era VVIP chopper kickback case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and is now out on bail. His name getting linked to the Rafale deal brings to focus the omnipresence of middlemen in India’s defence sector and exposes the hollow claims of successive governments. Whether as brokers routing billion-dollar bribes or as puny go-betweens pocketing million-dollar facilitation fees, Indian taxpayers cannot afford these shadowy characters of the netherworld of defence contracts. The Mediapart allegations should be investigated.