French investigator shelved graft probe into Rafale jet deal: Report
The former head of the financial crimes branch of France’s public prosecution services shelved an investigation into alleged evidence of corruption in the ₹58,000-crore Rafale jet deal with India despite the objection of colleagues, according to a French media report on Tuesday.
This was the second in a three-part report by Mediapart, which earlier reported Dassault Aviation, makers of the Rafale, paid a million euros to a person described as a “middleman” in connection with the deal for 36 jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Mediapart contended the payment was made for manufacturing 50 large models of Rafale jets, though Dassault provided inspectors of French anti-corruption agency Agence Française Anticorruption (AFA) no proof that these replicas were made.
Éliane Houlette, former head of the financial crimes branch of the public prosecution services, justified her decision to shelve the investigations as preserving “the interests of France, the workings of institutions”, Mediapart reported.
French President Emmanuel Macron and his predecessor, François Hollande, were cited in allegations levelled in the case, the report said.
Houlette was provided a legal statement in October 2018 by a Paris-based anti-corruption NGO called Sherpa, which alerted her office to a “suspected and potentially far-reaching scam involving the French state” and Dassault, the report said.
Sherpa reported, citing media revelations, about “suspected corruption, including money laundering, influence peddling and favouritism” surrounding the sale of Rafale jets to India.
The statement by Sherpa – called a “signalement”, which in France is a form of official alert about suspected criminal behaviour that can be filed by entities which aren’t direct victims of the alleged crime – was “politically highly sensitive, not only because it centred on a massive arms deal agreed between governments, but also because it threatened possible ramifications” for Macron, Hollande, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, who served as Hollande’s defence minister and is currently foreign minister, the report added.
Mediapart cited documents and first-hand accounts to contend that following the “potentially explosive alert” from Sherpa, Houlette made “no serious attempts to investigate the suspicions of corruption and favouritism surrounding the Rafale deal”, though she held an informal meeting with a lawyer representing Dassault.
In June 2019, shortly before leaving her post, Houlette closed the preliminary investigation into Sherpa’s complaint, citing the “absence” of any offence. The move went against the advice of the deputy prosecutor in-charge of the case, who “refused to write up the official notification of it being dropped”, Mediapart reported.
Houlette’s decision was validated by two magistrates of the Paris public prosecution services and enacted by her successor.