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NEW DELHI : A report in French online journal Mediapart late on Sunday claimed that Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the Rafale jet, paid €1 million to Sushen Gupta, described as a “middleman", in connection with the 59,000 crore deal for 36 jets for the Indian Air Force.

The Congress party demanded an independent probe into the matter even as law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad termed the report “baseless". Gupta, whose name figures in the AgustaWestland charge sheet, did not respond to queries seeking comment.

According to the Mediapart report, Dassault had claimed the money was paid for the manufacture of 50 large replicas of Rafale jets, even though the company provided inspectors of French anti-corruption agency Agence Française Anticorruption (AFA) with no proof that these models were made.

The reporter who wrote the article, Yann Philippin, said he found it very “suspicious" that the discovery was “covered up by AFA, which did not report it to French prosecutors".

A spokesperson for Dassault Aviation did not respond to a query.

The report is the latest controversy to dog the deal, and Philippin said it was the first of three parts with the second part focusing on the way the French justice system dealt with initial “suspicions" that rose in 2018, and the third part “on what happened behind the scenes".

India ordered the jets in 2016 as an emergency purchase through a government-to-government deal.

The report said AFA inspectors were surprised when they came across a “suspect payment" of €508,925 listed against the head “gifts to clients".

“Mediapart understands that during a scheduled audit of the group, the agency’s inspectors found that Dassault had agreed to pay €1 million to a middleman just after the signing of the deal. That middleman is now accused of money laundering in India in another defence deal," the report said.

According to Mediapart, AFA decided not to refer the matter to French prosecutors even though a subsequent report of the agency found that the amount of €508,925 “seemed disproportionate in relation to all the other entries" under the same heading.

“The sum is indeed huge for a gift. Though French law does not set out precise limits, legal precedents suggest that giving a watch or an expensive meal costing several hundreds of euros can be enough to constitute corruption," the Mediapart report said.

The report said to justify the “gift", Dassault supplied the AFA with a “proforma invoice" of 30 March 2017, which was given by an Indian company called Defsys Solutions.

The report claimed that Defsys belongs to the Gupta family, whose members have acted as middlemen in the aeronautical and defence industries for three generations. It said two Indian media reports from January 2019 revealed that one family member, Sushen Gupta, who operated as an agent for Dassault, worked on the Rafale contract and allegedly obtained confidential documents from India’s defence ministry. Gupta was investigated by Indian agencies over his role in the AgustaWestland chopper scam.

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