‘Be it UPA or NDA, middleman Sushen Gupta was active in Rafale talks’

The defence middleman had mentioned 'people in power' seeking money, but CBI did not act on evidence in hand, says French journalist Yann Philippin

Once it took charge in 2014, the Narendra Modi government changed the deal with Dassault into an inter-government one with France, leading to fresh Rafale negotiations. File photo

Amid the Rafale scam hitting the headlines all over again, French journalist Yann Philippin has said the middleman in the deal was active throughout the negotiations, irrespective of which party was ruling India.

In an interview with the Republic, the scribe from investigative journal Mediapart said probe agencies including India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have proof that payments were made by defence manufacturer Dassault to middleman Sushen Gupta between 2007 and 2012, under the UPA regime.

Also read: French journal makes new allegations in Rafale deal kickbacks

The change of government at the Centre did not vastly change Gupta’s activities, indicated Philippin. The Manmohan Singh-led UPA government had struck a deal with Dassault. The Narendra Modi government, which took over in 2014, changed the deal into an inter-government one with France, leading to fresh Rafale negotiations. In the midst of this, Gupta was “very active”, said Philippin.

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The incriminating note

Speaking about a note from Gupta, meant for Dassault in September 2012, where he mentioned ‘people in power’ asking for money, the journalist said it was possibly in reference to “political contacts in the Indian Army”.

Gupta is alleged to have received about EUR 7.5 million in commissions for the Rafale deal. Philippin said this was suspected to have been routed via Mauritius-based ‘consultancies’ associated with Gupta, using ‘bogus invoices’.

On what Gupta did with the money, Philippin said he had no idea. “Honestly, I don’t know,” he said. “There is no evidence on what Gupta did with the money. All we have is evidence of the note.” The note, which had been obtained as part of the AgustaWestland case, where again Gupta was a middleman, was not used as evidence in the Rafale case by Indian enforcement agencies.

“His note is a document that has been obtained by the (India’s) Enforcement Directorate. The note is in bullet points that comprise the message Sushen Gupta wanted to deliver (to Dassault). On the same note, there is a ticket of Sushen Gupta from Paris to New Delhi, which suggests that he had meetings with the Dassault people,” Philippin added.

Sensitive information on pricing

On the second phase of the deal, between India and France, the role of Gupta is clearer, said the journalist. “During the new negotiations, he worked for Dassault. In 2015, he obtained confidential documents from the Indian Ministry of Defence regarding their position on the negotiation, on how they were calculating the price they wanted for the contract, which is sensitive information,” he said.

The French journalist expressed surprise on the CBI not acting despite proof in hand. “The CBI had these two elements — the complaints as well as the documents from Mauritius that showed Sushen Gupta received kickbacks through his company Interstellar Technologies from French aircraft manufacturer Dassault through allegedly fake invoices, and still, they did not open an investigation immediately and decided to bury the case,” he noted in the interview.

Emphasising that he is a journalist who does not have direct access to official documents, Philippin said: “All that we know is Sushen Gupta is a reputed aerospace and defence intermediary, who allegedly has a lot of contacts both within the Indian political world and Indian army.”

The new investigative report in Mediapart has triggered a political slugfest, with the BJP accusing the Congress of corruption in the Rafale deal, in the 2007-12 period. There were calls for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to respond to the allegations. Meanwhile, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra led the chorus accusing the NDA government of ‘covering up’ corruption through the CBI.

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