Narendra Modi got Rafale jet fighters cheaper, Indian federal auditor says

Report helps prime minister counter opposition claims of corruption in $8.7bn deal

A Rafale fighter jet lands on France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in February 2019. AFP
A Rafale fighter jet lands on France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in February 2019. AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government bought French-made Rafale fighter jets for a lower price than the one negotiated by its predecessor, the federal auditor said, undermining opposition claims of corruption months before a general election.

The US$8.7 billion (Dh32bn) deal for 36 French warplanes worked out 2.86 per cent cheaper than a bid being considered by the previous government led by the opposition Congress party, according to a report tabled in parliament on Wednesday by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General.

The jets will also be delivered one month sooner, the CAG said.

Mr Modi scrapped the previous proposal for the purchase of 126 Rafale jets, the majority of which would have been built in India.

The auditor did not provide the actual price per plane, in line with government policy not to provide details of arms purchases, but listed parameters on which it made comparisons, such as customising the aircraft, engineering support and the weapons package.

The auditor noted however that the new contract did not have the financial and performance guarantees that had been agreed to previously.

The CAG report allows the government to defend itself against the charges of corruption in the deal, but it is unlikely to end opposition attacks on the issue as India heads towards a general election that will be held in several stages starting in April.

Congress leader Anand Sharma said the government-appointed auditor's report lacked credibility.

"We know how these things function," he said.

Mr Modi has been under pressure in the run-up to the polls to disprove the Congress-led campaign that alleges the jets were bought at a higher price and that the new deal unduly benefited Indian billionaire Anil Ambani. Both the government and Mr Ambani, whose Reliance Group is a partner of Rafale-builder Dassault, have denied the allegations, as has Dassault.

“The CAG report would probably take the winds off the opposition parties’ attack on the Modi government regarding Rafale procurement,” Rahul Bedi, a New Delhi-based analyst at Jane’s Information Services, told Bloomberg News. “However, the political slug fest would continue, as it is a battle between reality and perception."

India’s Supreme Court in December rejected a plea to investigate the jet purchase.

"The truth shall prevail," senior government minister and former defence minister Arun Jaitley tweeted after the report was tabled.

Mr Modi's government has come under fire in recent months for allegedly trying to manipulate or conceal government data that might show it in a bad light. These included changes to economic evaluation criteria that resulted in GDP growth rates under the previous government being revised lower, and a report from the national statistics office showing unemployment at a 45-year high that only become public after it was leaked.

Published: February 13, 2019 08:26 PM


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