New Delhi: The controversy over India’s purchase of Rafale fighter jets under a deal with the French government took a new turn on Friday with a French journal quoting former president François Hollande as saying that Dassault Aviation was given no choice but to partner Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group for the offset clause in the deal, according to an ANI report.

Ambani-controlled Reliance Infrastructure Ltd has a 51:49 joint venture with Dassault—the maker of Rafale—called Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL), which has an offset contract of about 30,000 crore for 36 Rafale aircraft. Under an offset policy, foreign companies selling goods to the Indian government or state-run firms are made to source part of the supplies locally.

India quickly responded, saying that neither its government nor the French government had any say in what it called a commercial decision. French journal Mediapart said, quoting Hollande in an interview, that it was India that proposed Reliance’s name and Dassault had no choice but to take the company given to it, news agency ANI said. French journalist Julien Bouissou tweeted parts of the interview that was done in French.

“We did not have a say in that. The Indian government proposed this service group and Dassault negotiated with Ambani. We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor we were given," ANI quoted Hollande as saying.

The report drew a response from India’s defence ministry in the evening. “The report referring to former French President Mr Hollande’s statement that the government of India insisted upon a particular firm as offset partner for Dassault Aviation in Rafale is being verified. It is reiterated that neither the government of India nor the French government had any say in the commercial decision," it tweeted.

Reliance Group did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The purchase of the 36 Rafale jets, which are slated to be inducted into the Indian Air Force from September 2019, has been in the eye of a storm with the Congress questioning the price and the choice of Reliance as the offset partner.

Hollande’s reported statement contradicts India’s claim that the deal between Dassault and Reliance was a commercial pact between two private parties and the government had nothing to do with it.

Reliance Group companies have sued HT Media Ltd, Mint’s publisher, and nine others in the Bombay high court over a 2 October 2014 front-page story that they have disputed. HT Media is contesting the case.

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