Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday alleged that fresh revelations in the Rafale fighter jet deal prove that Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the fighter jet, invested in a loss-making company held by industrialist Anil Ambani which yielded it Rs 2.84-billion profit and helped it purchase land.
Gandhi alleged it was the “first installment of kickbacks” that Dassault paid Ambani. He claimed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Verma was removed because he intended to order a probe into the Rafale fighter jet deal, and that Prime Minster Narendra Modi was having “sleepless nights” fearing action if a probe was conducted.
In a statement, Reliance Infrastructure spokesperson said it was “deeply unfortunate” that the “Reliance Group and its chairman Anil Ambani are continuously being dragged into a political battle in view of the impending” state assembly polls and Lok Sabha elections. The spokesperson described Gandhi’s allegations as “blatant lies”, concocted, preposterous, based on “distorted facts” to “mount an unwarranted campaign of calumny and falsehoods” against Ambani and Reliance Group.
On Thursday, The Wire, a news website, reported that “regulatory filings in France and India” reveal that Dassault followed its joint venture with Ambani’s company with an “investment in 2017 of approximately 40 million euros in another Anil Ambani venture that is loss-making and has almost zero revenues.” The Wire report claimed that the “investment translated into a Rs 2.84 billion profit for the Ambani group company, Reliance Infrastructure, which sold shares in a subsidiary, Reliance Airport Developers Limited (RADL) at a premium.” The Wire further reported that “is unclear how the valuation for the RADL stake was reached between the two groups or why Dassault would buy a substantial share in an unlisted company that has little to no revenues and has nothing to do with Dassault’s core business.”
Basing his allegations on The Wire report, Gandhi held a press conference on Friday afternoon. Alluding to a recent interview of Dassault Aviation CEO Éric Trappier, Gandhi accused him of “lying”. In the interview, Trappier has said the reason Ambani's firm was given the offset contract and not state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was that it had land for the project. Gandhi alleged the land was purchased by Ambani's company with the money that Dassault gave.
The Congress chief said it defied logic why Dassault would buy stakes in a loss-making company, and alleged the Dassault CEO was “protecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. He said an inquiry into the deal would lead to the doorstep of the PM since the “deal was done by Narendra Modi to give Anil Ambani Rs 300 billion”. “The PM and Anil Ambani have stolen Rs 300 billion,” Gandhi alleged.
In its statement, the Reliance Infra spokesperson said Dassault’s investment in RADL “has no link whatsoever with the Rafale contract” and the RADL transaction complied with all rules and regulations. It said the Congress party has falsely alleged that the funds invested in RADL have been used for the purchase of land at Mihan, Nagpur for the Dassault-Reliance 49:51 JV.
The spokesperson said the payment for the land was made from 2015 to 2017, much before the investment by Dassault in RADL. The spokesperson said Ambani has not entered into any transactions personally with Dassault and nor has he derived any personal benefit from any transactions.
RADL is a subsidiary of Reliance Infrastructure Limited, and operated five regional airports, the spokesperson said. The spokesperson said investment by Dassault Aviation in RADL, to acquire 34.8 per cent equity stake for Rs 3.09 billion, was made by way of FDI in September 2017 in a “transparent manner”.
Reliance Infrastructure applied for the land in question in August 2015, and it was allotted in January 2016, and all payments for this land were made between August 2015 and July 2017, the spokesperson said. Dassault Reliance joint venture is located on this land and manufacturing of components for Falcon-2000 business jets has already begun, the spokesperson said.