New Delhi, October 10: In what is likely to turn the Rafale deal row murkier, internal documents of arms manufacturer Dassault Aviation reportedly claim that it was "mandatory" to select Reliance Defence Ltd as the offset partner for inking the pact with the Indian government.
The documents, accessed by French investigative journal Mediapart, will act as ammo for the Indian Opposition which has accused the Narendra Modi-led central government of benefitting Anil Ambani's defence firm at the cost of national interest. France ‘Did Not Choose Reliance’, Only Dassault Can Comment on This, Says Francois Hollande.
The report by Mediapart comes days after it quoted former French president Francois Hollande saying that the government he presided over in 2015 had "no other choice" than to accept Reliance as the domestic partner in the deal.
Hollande had later clarified over his remarks, claiming that though the French government was told that Reliance will be offset partner, the decision was taken solely by Dassault Aviation.
Notably, Reliance was not part of the erstwhile Rafale deal, which was being negotiated during the tenure of Indian government led by Dr Manmohan Singh. Under the then pact, the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was to be roped in by Dassault as the maintenance partner.
The Modi government, however, has refuted the irregularity and graft allegations pressed by the Opposition, calling it a "baseless propaganda". Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the selection of Reliance was a decision taken by Dassault, with the Indian government "having no say in it".
In an interview, Sitharaman further claimed that the HAL was not equipped to handle the Rafale deal -- a claim which the former chief of the public ordnance firm has contested.