Ready to face any probe, says Rahul Gandhi as BJP alleges ties to UK defence firm
Rahul Gandhi on Saturday offered to face a probe over allegations that his former partner in a UK-based company had acquired defence offset contracts when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power.Updated: May 04, 2019, 23:17 IST
Facing a sharp attack by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday offered to face a probe over allegations that his former partner in a UK-based company had acquired defence offset contracts when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power
At the same time, Gandhi called for an investigation into alleged wrongdoing in the Rs 59,000 crore contract signed by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government
At a press conference, Gandhi said: “Please undertake any investigation you want, do any inquiry you want, I am ready as I know I have not done anything wrong, but please also investigate Rafale.”
According to a news article posted on the website of Business Today magazine, the co-promoter of Gandhi’s UK firm Backops Limited acquired defence offsets under the UPA regime. Ulrik Mcknight was 35% co-owner of Backops UK, in which Gandhi owned the remaining 65%. The company, founded in 2003, was wound up in 2009. Mcknight later went on to acquire offset contracts from French defence supplier Naval Group against Scorpene submarines in 2011, the article claimed.
The article offered instant ammunition for leaders of the BJP, which Gandhi has doggedly pursued over the deal for 36 Rafale jet fighters signed by the NDA government, alleging that the aircraft cost three times the initial bid by Dassault Aviation, the maker of the planes, when the UPA regime was trying to buy the warplanes. He has also alleged that the deal was signed to offer an opportunity for businessman Anil Ambani of the Reliance Group to win an offset deal from Dassault. Both the NDA government and Reliance Group have denied any wrongdoing.
Defence offsets require a foreign supplier to source a certain percentage of the value of the contract from Indian sources.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at an election rally on Saturday: “Today, I read that during UPA’s tenure, one of naamdar’s [dynast’s] business partners got defence offset contracts. Apni sarkar, dost bhi apna, aur raksha sauda bhi bada - yaani naamdar ke liye malai ka poora intezam tha.”
The Hindi quote translates loosely as: “His government, his friend, even the defence deal was big. That means the cream was ready to be served to the dynast.”
BJP president Amit Shah took to Twitter to attack Gandhi. “Midas Touch, no deal is too much!” he wrote.
“When he has a say, his business partners make hay. Doesn’t matter if India suffers on the way! #StealLikeRaga.”
After the remarks by Modi and Shah, finance minister Arun Jaitley launched a more elaborate attack on Gandhi at a press conference. Jaitley claimed that on May 28, 2002, a company was formed in India named Backops Services Private Limited with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi as its directors. On August 21, 2003, another company was formed in Britain with the same name – Backops Limited – which had Rahul Gandhi and Ulrik Mcknight as directors, the minister claimed.
“This in itself is quite innocent but what does Backops mean. It was not a company that was into services or manufacturing but naturally into liasioning. It’s an influence-for-cash company. ‘We will use influence to get your work done,”’ he said.
Jaitley alleged that Mcknight was also part of “Rahul ji’s social gang” and the son-in-law of a senior Congress leader from Goa and his wife was a journalist by profession.
After Backops wound up, Mknight continued his work through different companies, including one named Optimal, Jaitley claimed. In 2011, when the French company, DCNS (former name of Naval Group), got the contract to build six Scorpene submarines in Visakhapatnam, a small Indian company — Flash Forge — acquired two companies of Ulrik. And the offset contracts of the Scorpene deal were bagged by this company,” Jaitley claimed.
Hindustan Times could not independently verify any of the allegations made by the minister or the magazine article.
Referring to Congress allegations on the Rafale deal, Jaitley said the party had set in place new norms that not the law of evidence but rules set by Rahul Gandhi apply. Now those standards will apply to Gandhi himself, Jaitley said.
He demanded a response from the Congress.
“Did he [Gandhi] want to start as a defence dealer, disguised defence dealer, proxy defence dealer, facilitator. What is the meaning of Backops? It is a serious issue and we would want the Congress leadership to answer it as early as possible,” he said.
“It is the story of a man who once aspired to be a defence deal pusher and today aspires to be the prime minister. It is a serious charge,” he added.
Incidentally, Backops also figured in the row over Gandhi’s citizenship sparked by a home ministry notice to clarify his position on a claim by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy that Gandhi had mentioned his nationality as British in annual returns filed by the company in 2005 and 2006.