Former French President François Hollande said his government "did not have a say" in the choice of Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence Ltd as a strategic partner for the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal in an interview with news publication Mediapart.
The Indian government proposed Reliance Defence, Hollande said, and Dassault — the French company that makes Rafales — negotiated directly with the Indian company.
Hollande's statement sharply contradicts the Indian government's stated position on the deal. In a tweet sent out after the news broke, the authorised Twitter handle of the Indian Ministry of Defence said the French media reports were being verified and the Indian government did not proposed Ambani's name.
The report referring to fmr French president Mr. Hollande's statement that GOI insisted upon a particular firm as offset partner for the Dassault Aviation in Rafale is being verified.— Defence Spokesperson (@SpokespersonMoD) September 21, 2018
It is reiterated that neither GoI nor French Govt had any say in the commercial decision.
The Opposition Congress party, however, seized on the news report as an admission that the Rafale deal was marred by corruption.
Former President of France François Hollande exposes the web of lies spun by the Modi Govt. The Modi Govt compelled Dassault to tie up with the Reliance group.https://t.co/lXdYIL0VAr#ModiRafaleLiesExposedpic.twitter.com/DLyvGjNAeD— Congress (@INCIndia) September 21, 2018
Hollande's admission is the latest twist in one of the Modi's government's earliest and most high profile policy decisions.
In April 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Paris that India would buy the French fighter jets under a government-to-government deal. Negotiations continued in January the following year, during French President Francois Hollande's visit to India, as both sides sought to arrive at an acceptable price.
In September 2016, India finally agreed to buy 36 Rafale aircraft for Rs 59,000 crore. The following month, Reliance Defence and Dassault announced the creation of a joint venture, Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd, to manufacture the aircraft.
The move prompted an outcry from Opposition, which has asked why a private firm, rather than the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, was given the opportunity to manufacture the jets.