New Delhi: A leaked email put out by the Congress Party on Tuesday morning suggest that businessman Anil Ambani visited then French defence minister Jean-Yves Les Drian’s office in Paris in late March 2015, a fortnight before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the procurement of 36 Rafale jets from France.
According to the contents of the email, this meeting was with Le Drian’s special advisor Jean Claude Mallet, his industry advisor Christophe Salomon and another technical advisor, Geoffrey Bouquot.
While The Wire could not independently verify the authenticity of this email — questionnaires sent out to the parties involved last weekend did not elicit any response — the developments appear to have also been independently verified by The Indian Express on Tuesday morning.
The email itself appears to be a back-and-forth between officials at European defence company Airbus which references a conversation with Le Drian’s office.
Ambani’s meeting with the French defence minister’s office is described as being “confidential and planned as you can imagine with very short notice”.
The email also notes that Ambani wished to work with Airbus Helicopters on both commercial helicopters and defence in general.
It seems Airbus , French Government , Anil Ambani all knew that the PM will sign an MOU on his visit to France between 9th and 11th April , 2015 .
This Government’s lies exposed. pic.twitter.com/rJGNNycaRH
— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) February 12, 2019
Another point the Congress Party has taken up as a point of attack against the Narendra Modi government is that Ambani reportedly mentioned a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was “in preparation and the intention to sign during the PM visit”. Or in other words, Ambani was in the know before it happened.
It is unclear what this MoU refers to or what was going to be signed: the 36-Rafale jet deal was merely announced in joint statement in April 2015 when Modi was in Paris.
The actual MoU for the Rafale deal was signed a year later, in January 2016, when then French president Francois Hollande visited India on the occasion of Republic Day. The deal was eventually concluded, intergovernmental agreement and all, in September 2016.
It appears likely that the leaked email and the report in The Indian Express will increase scrutiny around the series of events that led to the new Rafale deal being announced.
As The Wire has reported on in the past, a Dassault Aviation press release has noted that it formed its joint venture with Anil Ambani’s Reliance in April 2015.
Reliance Defence was also incorporated on March 28, 2015, the same week that Ambani purportedly had a meeting with the French defence minister’s office.
What has added to the confusion is that other stakeholders, such as the-then foreign secretary S Jaishankar and former defence minister Manohar Parrikar appeared to be out of the loop.
On April 8, 2015, Jaishankar, in his media briefing prior to the PM’s visit, gave no indication that a new deal was in the works. Indeed, he suggested the opposite.
“In terms of Rafale, my understanding is that there are discussions underway between the French company, our Ministry of Defence, the HAL which is involved in this. These are ongoing discussions. These are very technical, detailed discussions. We do not mix up leadership level visits with deep details of ongoing defence contracts. That is on a different track. A leadership visit usually looks at big picture issues even in the security field,” Jaishankar had told the media.
Other reports, most notably by senior journalist Ajai Shukla in the Business Standard, also indicate that the new Rafale decision was a unliateral step that didn’t involve Parrikar.