Anne Michel and Simon Piel - Rafale case: Fresh moves towards a corruption investigation
On April 22, the Sherpa association lodged a complaint against X with the constitution of a civil party to open a judicial investigation into the highly sensitive case of the sale of 36 combat aircraft by Dassault Aviation to India in 2016. The Sherpa association, which fights against economic crime, is bringing back to court an ultra-sensitive and politically inflammable case: the Rafale affair, this sale of 36 French fighter planes by Dassault Aviation to India, in 2016, on which weigh heavy suspicions of corruption, now widely documented by the Indian and French press.
According to information from Le Monde, Sherpa lodged a complaint against X with the constitution of a civil party, Thursday, April 22, with the judicial tribunal of Paris, for acts of "corruption and active and passive influence peddling", "concealment of corruption, influence peddling and favouritism”, “active money laundering and influence peddling” and “concussion”.
After two unsuccessful attempts to refer the matter to the National Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF) - a report dated October 26, 2018 closed without action, then a complaint of May 21, 2019 that went unheeded - this new offensive by the anti-corruption association aims to obtain the opening of a judicial investigation, to shed light on the conditions under which this strategic military contract at 7.9 billion euros was concluded between the French aircraft manufacturer and the government of Narendra Modi, in particular for the benefit of a friend of the Indian Prime Minister, the powerful industrialist Anil Ambani. Finalized under the presidency of François Hollande after long years of negotiations, it was piloted from the top of the state, with the economic diplomacy of the time.
YANN PHILIPPIN - Sale of French Rafale jet fighters to India: how a state scandal was buried
While the file was already loaded with revelations, Sherpa's complaint follows new information from Mediapart, at the beginning of April, on the payment of possible kickbacks to a sulphurous intermediary in India, already involved for money laundering in another sales case. helicopters in the country, and the very political burial of this potential “state affair” by the PNF and the French Anti-Corruption Agency (AFA).
"In 2018, there were strong suspicions of corruption and favouritism, but today these suspicions have been supported by the investigations of Mediapart and Le Monde as well as by the action of Indian NGOs," says William Bourdon, one of Sherpa's lawyers, who is also its founding president. The opening of a judicial investigation will finally make the investigation possible." In terms of law, the penal code allows any approved anti-corruption association declared for at least five years as Sherpa is to exercise the rights granted to the civil party, for offenses of "corruption and influence peddling" as well. than "concealment or money laundering." Judicial information can be opened on the constitution of a civil party, provided that a simple complaint has been previously filed.
Cancelled tax adjustment
What do we know today about the Rafale affair, according to the work of the press? The revelations have been growing, especially in the area of favouritism, since the signing of the contract between France and India on September 23, 2016, around the famous beneficiary of the contract, Anil Ambani. Indeed, this industrialist close to Indian power did not appear in the initial negotiations, initiated in 2012 between Dassault, winner of a call for tenders, and the public Indian aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, with a view to the delivery of 126 aircraft. French, including 108 assembled on Indian soil. The “contract of the century”, we then commented.
But the Indian Prime Minister finally imposed Mr. Ambani, thanks to a dramatic turn of events at the end of April 2015, which surprised even the Indian Ministry of Defence: exit the call for tenders and the transfer of technology, India would no longer buy 126 Rafale but 36, all produced and assembled in France, within the framework of an intergovernmental agreement. The Indian public manufacturer must then give way to Mr. Ambani, inexperienced in aeronautics, who creates a special purpose company, Reliance Aerostructure Limited, even before the official signing of the contract. This close friend of Mr. Modi becomes one of the main beneficiaries, alongside other Indian companies, of the juicy offset of the contract, of around 4 billion euros - this part of the contract to be reinvested in India in the form of compensation industrial, providing for the establishment of joint ventures between Anil Ambani and Dassault or its industrial partners, including Thales.
In April 2019, Le Monde revealed that in 2015, when the sale of the Rafale was being negotiated, France cancelled a tax adjustment of more than 140 million euros, however claimed for years, concerning a French company belonging to the Reliance group of M. Ambani. Emmanuel Macron was then Finance Minister, but, in 2019, Bercy [the French Finance Ministry] told Le Monde that no trace of any meeting between Mr. Macron and Mr. Ambani existed on the official agendas. The news caused a scandal in India, even disrupting the conduct of parliamentary elections.
Now, therefore, Mediapart is driving the point home and implicating the PNF and the French Anti-Corruption Agency (AFA), which allegedly buried the case in the name of the reason of state. The online news site claims that the former PNF chief Eliane Houlette refused, in June 2019, to investigate the case, against the advice of a deputy prosecutor, who was responsible for analysing the first report of Sherpa. Sherpa's complaint was dismissed for "no violation".
In addition, according to the online news site, the AFA, placed under the dual supervision of the budget and justice ministers, would not have reported to the courts a major discovery: the payment, by Dassault, " just after the signing of the Rafale contract ", for a sum of" one million euros to an intermediary, Sushen Gupta, indicted in another case ". An intermediary who would have helped Dassault to close the sale, against the backdrop of the payment of kickbacks. Also, according to the site, the aircraft manufacturer justified this payment to the AFA by purchasing models of Rafale - its own planes, therefore - "in dubious reality". These models would have been paid 20,000 euros each. In this context, Mediapart wonders about "the withdrawal of anti-corruption clauses" from the annexes to the agreement between France and India.
From Sherpa's point of view, all of these facts must be investigated by justice. "We are in a case of exceptional corruption, by the actors involved, by the stakes and by the means employed to hinder the emergence of the truth," said William Bourdon and his partner Vincent Brengarth. "Two facts have been established," they continue, "the corrupt flow and the self-censorship of the Anti-Corruption Agency, which, given the very strong commitment of the President of the AFA in favour of the fight against corruption, makes it possible to suppose that a political intervention has taken place. The question of obstruction of justice will necessarily arise during the investigation. "
Asked, the PNF did not wish to react. "We do not open on simple unsubstantiated suspicions, had indicated its head at the time, Ms. Houlette, at Paris Match, in July 2020, (...) We must weigh things well, protect the interests of France, the functioning of institutions. " For its part, the AFA, in the person of its director Charles Duchaine, assures the World that they "did not miss out on something illegal". "I can tell you that we have checked a number of points, including gifts and hospitality, which should not exceed reasonable or appear to be an action for a consideration," he explains. "Beyond that, we have information that allows us to believe that this operation, as questionable as it is on the form of compliance, is not fictitious", says Mr. Duchaine, who claims his "discretion" in the use of section 40, which obliges all officials to report a crime if they witness it.
As for Dassault Aviation, in a press release released on April 8, a spokesperson for the armaments group said that "many checks are carried out by official bodies including the French Anti-Corruption Agency. No breaches have been reported, especially under the contract with India. " This contract "was established from government to government", adds the industrialist, and it is executed "in full transparency between the various partners, both state and industry".
Posted on LeMonde.fr on April 27, 2021 at 7:48 p.m., updated yesterday at 10:08 a.m.