A French judge has been appointed to lead a judicial probe in the 7.8 billion euros (approx Rs 59,000 crore) worth Rafale deal signed with India in 2016

France has opened the investigation into the alleged "corruption and favouritism" in the Rafale deal signed with India in 2016 for the sale of 36 Dassault-built fighter jets. A French judge has also been appointed to lead a judicial probe in the 7.8 billion euros worth deal.

"The highly sensitive probe into the inter-governmental deal signed in 2016 was formally opened on June 14," a French online investigative journal said.

French publication Mediapart on Friday reported that the criminal investigation will be led by an independent magistrate "who will, among other elements, examine questions surrounding the actions of former French president Fran├žois Hollande".

Former French president Hollande was in office when the Rafale deal was inked, and current French president Emmanuel Macron was Hollande’s economy and finance minister.

The financial crimes branch of the French public prosecution services (PNF) has said that the investigation will look into allegations of corruption and favouritism in the pact for 36 fighter planes between the Indian government and French aircraft manufacturer Dassault.

The development came following a series of investigations done by Mediapart and a subsequent complaint filed by the French NGO Sherpa. A similar complaint filed earlier by Sherpa was rejected by the PNF in 2018.

Dassault aviation has not reacted to the developments. Earlier it had denied any wrongdoings in the Indo-French deal and 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 original contract that involved Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the supply of 126 fighter jets was won by Dassault but the subsequent talks between the two sides reportedly broke down.

THE CONTROVERSY

The Narendra Modi government had signed an inter-governmental deal with France in 2016 for the sale of 36 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) in flyaway condition.

The deal, however, came under intense political scrutiny in India and in France after the Opposition alleged that Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Defence had been signed on as the offset partner by weapons manufacturer Dassault Aviation, even though the company had no previous experience.

Know all about the deal here

The Congress alleged that the Modi government signed the contract with France at a much higher price than negotiated during the UPA rule. Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition leaders demanded that the government must reveal the price of Rafale.

The government rejected the demand saying that the price disclosure is covered under the secrecy clause of the deal. Rahul Gandhi claimed that he had been told "personally" by former French President Francois Hollande that the Modi government could reveal the price of Rafale without jeopardising the defence deal.

The Congress had been alleging favouritism by the Modi government for over a year. The first real blow to the Centre came when French publication Mediapart interviewed former French president Francois Hollande who revealed that he had no choice in selecting the Indian offset partner and the name of Reliance was given by the Indian side.

However, India's Supreme Court heard a public interest case on the deal and said it saw nothing wrong in it in November 2019.

The final government-to-government deal signed between the two countries in 2016 provided 36 multi-role fighter aircraft for an estimated price of 7.8 billion Euros.

India has raised two squadrons of the jet on western and eastern fronts. The first squadron is fully operational at Ambala with 18 Rafale jets, whereas the second squadron is at the Hasimara airbase in West Bengal. The Indian Air Force is expected to induct all the 36 Rafale fighter jets by 2022.