Hollande fuels Rafale fighter jet controversy in India

In this file photo taken on October 27, 2017 Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier (L), French Defence Minister Florence Parly (C) and chairman of Reliance Group Anil Ambani arrive at MIHAN SEZ, where she will participates in the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL), in Nagpur. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2018
0

Hollande fuels Rafale fighter jet controversy in India

  • Hollande denied any conflict of interest with Reliance, which partially financed a film produced by his girlfriend Julie Gayet in 2016

NEW DELHI: Former French president Francois Hollande has fueled controversy over India’s multi-billion-dollar 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets, saying that France was given no choice on the Indian partner for manufacturer Dassault.
His comments on Friday stoked debate over a subject which has gained significant traction in India in recent weeks, since the opposition Congress party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of favoring a private conglomerate over a public company in the aircraft deal.
The party alleges Modi gave preferential treatment to industrialist Anil Ambani, the billionaire chairman of Reliance Group, to the detriment of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Officials in India and France say Dassault had freely chosen to partner with Reliance, despite Ambani having no previous experience in the aeronautics sector.
“We did not have a say in that,” Hollande told investigative website Mediapart. “It was the Indian government that proposed this service group (Reliance), and Dassault who negotiated with Ambani.
“We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us,” added Hollande, who was president of France from 2012-2017.
French firm Dassault had spent years negotiating a deal for 126 fighter jets to be manufactured in India with HAL, but talks had stalled.
On taking office, the Modi government canceled the negotiations and decided to directly purchase 36 jets made in France.
Hollande denied any conflict of interest with Reliance, which partially financed a film produced by his girlfriend Julie Gayet in 2016.
“That is why, moreover, this group (Reliance) did not have to give me any thanks for anything. I could not even imagine that there was any connection to a film by Julie Gayet.”
Speaking to AFP on the sidelines of a meeting in Canada on Friday, the former French leader insisted that France “did not choose Reliance in any way.”
When asked whether India had put pressure on Reliance and Dassault to work together, Hollande said he was unaware and “only Dassault can comment on this.”

Contacted by AFP, France’s embassy in New Delhi did not comment.
India’s defense ministry wrote on Twitter that neither the Indian nor French government “had any say in the commercial decision.”
The French foreign ministry later issued a statement saying that “the sole obligations of the French government were to assure delivery and the quality of the equipment.”
Paris was “in no way involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners,” it added.
For its part, Dassault Aviation said in a statement Friday that the contract was “a government-to-government agreement.”
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who has led the opposition’s focus on the deal, wrote: “Thanks to Francois Hollande, we now know he (Modi) personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to a bankrupt Anil Ambani.”
“The PM has betrayed India. He has dishonored the blood of our soldiers,” Gandhi added.
Foreign manufacturers obtaining arms contracts in India are obliged to reinvest a portion of the sums collected in India.
Under the Rafale deal, France must spend amounts totalling around half the eight billion euros ($9.4 bn) paid by the Indian government.
Dassault has invested more than 100 million euros in its joint venture with Reliance.
India — the world’s largest defense importer — has been investing tens of billions in updating its Soviet-era military hardware to counter long-standing territorial disputes with its nuclear-armed neighbors, including a strengthening China.
It intends to use compensations payments such as in the Rafale deal to create a local defense industry.


UK and Russia hold first talks in over a year

Updated 16 February 2019
0

UK and Russia hold first talks in over a year

  • The meeting is the first between ministers from the two countries following the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury on March 4
  • The attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, which Britain said was done using a Soviet era nerve agent Novichok, plunged relations to their lowest ebb in decades

LONDON: Junior foreign ministers from Britain and Russia met in Germany on Saturday in the highest-level contact between the two countries since an alleged nerve agent attack in Britain last March froze diplomatic relations.
Britain’s Minister for Europe Alan Duncan held talks with Russia’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, according to the foreign office in London.
“Alan underlined that we have deep differences, and the Russian state would need to choose a different path and act as a responsible international partner before there can be a change in our current relationship with Russia,” it said in a statement.
The meeting is the first between ministers from the two countries following the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury on March 4 which Britain has blamed on Moscow.
The attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, which Britain said was done using a Soviet era nerve agent Novichok, plunged relations to their lowest ebb in decades.
The attack killed a British woman who came into contact with the Novichok, as well as injuring several others including a policeman.
Among a raft of responses, London suspended all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the two countries, and canceled ministers and members of the royal family attending last summer’s World Cup in Russia.
“(The) minister reiterated the UK’s and Allies’ firm stance in response to the Russian state’s reckless use of chemical weapons in Salisbury,” the foreign office added in its statement.
“He made clear that Russia must address the concerns of the international community.
“This includes ending its destabilising activity in Ukraine; and the persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya.”
The foreign office said Britain would continue to “build and strengthen our cultural ties and people to people links with Russia wherever we can.”
Ministers from around the world, including those from the US, France, Britain, and Germany, are taking part in several days of talks in Munich this weekend centered on global security issues.