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Sitharaman holds talks with France amid mounting Rafale deal 'cover-up' allegations

Paris: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held a one-on-one meeting with her French counterpart Florence Parly to hold bilateral talks Thursday. The meeting comes amid increasing allegations of corruption at the BJP-led centre by Congress.

It is not yet known whether the Rafale deal was discussed by the two ministers. Official sources claimed that talks included co-production of military platforms and weapons by the two nations, besides expanding cooperation between their armed forces, particularly in the maritime domain.

Officials added that Sitharaman will visit a Rafale manufacturing facility near Paris on Friday to take stock of progress in their production of the 36 fighter jets.

Mounting attack on the Centre, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi questioned the sudden departure of  Sitharaman to Paris.

“Why has suddenly Defence Minister rushed to France to Rafale's plant? What is the emergency?” he questioned, adding that it is a clear signal that a huge cover-up is going on and the media is being pressurised to not report on this.

Defence ministry released a statement saying, "Annual Defence Ministerial Dialogue between India and France was decided during the summit meeting in March 2018 between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron."

Earlier in the day, an investigative report by French news website Mediapart, quoted from a new leaked company document of Dassault Aviation, where a senior company executive is saying that it was “imperative and obligatory” for the company to agree to work with Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence in order to procure the contract to produce 36 Rafale jets for India.

Denying all the allegations, Dassault released a statement saying that the company had freely chosen to make a partnership with the Reliance Group.

Earlier, former French President Francois Hollande in an interview said that France was given "no choice" on selection of the Indian partner for Dassault and the Indian government proposed the name of the Indian company. Hollande was French president when the Rafale deal was sealed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets after talks with the then French President Hollande on April 10, 2015 in Paris. The final deal was sealed on September 23, 2016.

The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal, saying the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating the deal.

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