Advocate ML Sharma

Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, the original petitioner who filed PIL to sought an independent investigation into the 2015 Rafale deal, has submitted a fresh plea in the Supreme Court to seek an independent investigation in the deal. In his plea, the serial petitioner has cited the recent report by French tabloid Mediapart that had stated that the aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation had paid 1 million Euros to a controversial middleman identified as Sushen Gupta. It has to be noted that Sharma’s first PIL was dismissed by SC in December 2018, and its review petition was rejected by the apex court in November 2019.

In the new PIL, Sharma has made Prime Minister Narendra Modi Respondent No 1, Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited the respondent no 2. Union of India the respondent No 3 and CBI the respondent No 4. The PIL is based exclusively on the revelations made by Mediapart and has urged Supreme Court to take cognizance of the tabloid’s report.

It is interesting that ML Sharma has named Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited as one of the respondents, even though the company is not named in the fresh allegations made by the French tabloid. Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited is joint venture between Dassault and Anil Ambani led Reliance Infrastructure, which was set to fulfil the offset obligations of Dassault as per India’s defence procurement laws. The company manufactures parts of the Falcon jet, the business jet of Dassault Aviation, and not involved in manufacturing of the Rafale jet.

A tweet by India Legal informing about the petition says that Dassault Aviation had paid Sushen Mohan Gupta a bribe of one million euros i.e., about eight thousand crore rupees. But that is a completely wrong conversion of currency, as €1 Euro is equal to around ₹8.9 crores, not ₹8000 crore. However, it is known whether this amount in Rupees was mentioned in the petition by ML Sharma or it was mentioned by India Legal on their own.

Dassault Aviation Has Denied The Allegations

After Mediapart’s report, On April 8, Dassault Aviation has released a statement in which it denied all the allegations and said there was no corruption or irregularities in the deal. Mediapart, in its report, alleged that the company had paid a bribe of € 1.1 million to an Indian company. Dassault has said that no violations were reported in the sale of 36 Rafale jet to India in the government-to-government deal. The company didn’t deny the payment to the Indian company, but said it was a legitimate business deal. Dassault said that Defsys was paid the money to make 50 scale models of the Rafale jet. The French company also said that they have shown documents of the deal to the French regulators.

The company said, “Numerous controls are carried out by official organizations, including the French Anti-Corruption Agency. No violations were reported, notably in the frame of the contract with India for the acquisition of 36 Rafales,” the company said. The company also said that it “wishes to reiterate that it acts in strict compliance with the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and national laws, in particular the law of December 9, 2016, known as Sapin 2”.

The company said that the contract with India for 36 Rafale jets, along with the corresponding offset contracts, meet the criteria established by these regulations and are being executed in full transparency between the various government and industrial partners.

What Mediapart Said?

In its report, the dubious tabloid said that the French anti-corruption agency Agence Fran├žaise Anticorruption (AFA) had discovered that Dassault had paid one million euros to a middleman who is now under investigation in India in connection with another defence deal.

It added that Dassault had clarified the payment, saying that it paid the Indian company to manufacture 50 large replica models of Rafale jets. The expenditure was reportedly shown under “Gifts to Clients” in Dassault accounts, implying that the models were ordered to give away as gifts to its clients. The report claimed that Dassault was unable to show any invoices to the AFA. However, in reality, Dassault had provided AFA invoices raised by Defsys Solutions.

At first glance, what Mediapart reported, and in the way it reported said ‘expose’, they give the impression that Sushen, Rafale, Dassault, Modi, Amit Shah, Ambani are all connected. However, on a deeper look, it was clear the first point that Mediapart made in which it said that Sushen was deep in the Rafale negotiations in 2012 with the government peddling some sort of bribery racket. The government at that time was Congress-led UPA and not NDA.

Mediapart also made a point that Dassault allegedly had a deep source within the government. However, if that was to be believed, Dassault would have got workable intel that it could use for its own benefit. On the contrary, as per Mediapart’s own admission, the price remained pegged at 7.8 billion euros that pointed out the loss of business to Dassault.

Reply by Defsys Solutions

Defsys Solutions is owned by the family of Sushen Mohan Gupta, who was arrested by ED in 2019 for his involvement in kickbacks paid in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal. In its statement, to company denied the allegations and said, “This is in response to wholly unsubstantiated, baseless and misleading claims appearing in certain sections of the media, insinuating that Defsys never supplied 50 replica models of Rafale aircraft.” It further added that Delivery challans, E-way bills, and GST returns related to such delivery had been duly filed with the relevant authorities.

What Supreme Court Had Said While Dismissing The Pleas

In 2018, Supreme Court had dismissed a batch of pleas filed by ML Sharma, Prashant Bhushan, Arun Shourie, Yashwant Singh and Vineet Dhanda. All PILs had sought an independent probe into the 2015 Rafale deal. The SC found no irregularities in matters of decision-making, pricing procurement and selection of offset partners.

The court had said that the perception of individuals could not become the base of a fishing and roving enquiry in the matters of defence procurements. The bench headed by the CJI said that the country could not afford to be lacking in any manner when it comes to defence. The court added, “Our country cannot afford to be unprepared/under-prepared in a situation where our adversaries are stated to have acquired not only 4th generation but even 5th generation aircraft, of which we have none. It will not be correct for the court to sit as an appellate authority to scrutinize each aspect of the process of acquisition.” In 2019, the court dismissed review petitions against the dismissal of the original 2018 PILs.