French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation paid at least 7.5 million euros (nearly Rs 650 million) in bribes to a middleman to help secure the sale of 36 Rafale fighter jets to India and investigating agencies failed to investigate it despite evidence, French portal Mediapart has alleged in a new report. The online journal has been investigating allegations of corruption in the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal.
Mediapart has published alleged false invoices that it says enabled Dassault to pay secret commissions to middleman Sushen Gupta. “Despite the existence of these documents, the Indian federal police has decided not to pursue the affair and has not begun an investigation,” the portal says. According to its report, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate have had proof since October 2018 that Dassault paid kickbacks to Sushen Gupta to secure the sale of Rafale jets.
The evidence, says the report, is contained in confidential documents revealed in another corruption case being investigated by the two agencies – the scandal involving the supply of VVIP choppers by AgustaWestland.
According to the MediaPart report, the bulk of the alleged payments were made before 2013. NDTV cannot independently verify the authenticity of these documents and has reached out to the CBI for comment.
Mediapart’s investigation on “Rafale papers” triggered a judicial investigation in France in July into allegations of corruption, influence peddling and favouritism.
Sushen Gupta is accused of receiving bribes from AgustaWestland through a shell company registered in Mauritius, Intersteller Technologies. The Mauritian authorities agreed to send documents related to the company to the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, to facilitate their investigations.
The documents were sent to the CBI on October 11, 2018, just a week after the agency received an official complaint alleging corruption in the Rafale deal. “However, the CBI decided not to open an investigation, even though just seven days after that corruption complaint was filed it received information proving that secret commissions had indeed been paid.”
According to Mediapart, this is when they discovered that Sushen Gupta also acted as an intermediary for Dassault over the Rafale deal. The report says Gupta’s Interstellar Technologies “received at least 7.5 million euros from the French aviation firm between 2007 and 2012, thanks to IT contracts that were clearly overbilled, and from which most of the money was discreetly sent to Mauritius using a system of alleged false invoices. Some of these invoices even got the name of the French company wrong, referring to “Dassult” Aviation.
Mediapart says the Mauritian documents cover the period of the bid process (2007 – 2012) that was eventually won by Dassault, when the Congress was in power. “Whereas the complaint filed on October 4, 2018, targets suspicious activity that took place from 2015, when the deal was being finalised on the authority of the current BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” says the site.
The invoices and bank statements obtained by the CBI show that Sushen Gupta’s shell company received 914,488 euros between 2002 and 2006. Dassault and the alleged middleman soon set up a new and even more opaque financial route to channel payments. The aviation company started buying overbilled IT services through the Singapore-based company Interdev, which was portrayed as the “system integrator for Dassault in Asia”, says Mediapart, adding that it was simply a shell company without any real activity, and was managed by a front man for the Gupta family, currently believed to be in South Africa.
In one document obtained by the Enforcement Directorate, Sushen Gupta suggested that he had handed over money to some officials on Dassault’s behalf. “The risk is taken, you have an agent we have paid, now make sure it is legal clean and defendable. […] No money no decisions […] People sitting in office asking for money. […] Those people will, if we don’t pay, put us in Jail,” the middleman wrote in the September 2012 note, according to Mediapart.
Other documents received by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate show that in 2015, during the final negotiations of the Rafale contract, Sushen Gupta got hold of confidential documents from the Defence Ministry detailing the stance of the Indian negotiators, in particular how they calculated the price of the aircrafts. Dassault has refused to comment on these documents, says Mediapart.