Indian court rejects probe into Rafale fighter jet deal

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, right, and Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman address a press conference on India's Supreme Court ruling on government purchase of Rafale fighter jets in New Delhi, India, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. India's top court has rejected petitions seeking a probe into the government purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi says there is no reason to doubt the government's decision-making process in the multi-billion dollar deal. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, right, and Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman address a press conference on India's Supreme Court ruling on government purchase of Rafale fighter jets in New Delhi, India, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. India's top court has rejected petitions seeking a probe into the government purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi says there is no reason to doubt the government's decision-making process in the multi-billion dollar deal. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI — India's top court on Friday rejected petitions by activists seeking a probe into the government purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said there was no reason to doubt the government's decision-making process in the multibillion dollar deal.

The purchase has become a major political issue in India with the main opposition Indian National Congress party accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of buying the aircraft at nearly three times the price being negotiated when it was the ruling party before Modi came to power in 2014.

The government has denied the claim but says a secrecy clause governs the deal's pricing.

Gogoi said it was not the job of the court to deal with the comparative details of the pricing.

Activist Prashant Bhushan, a petitioner, said he believes that the court verdict was against the country's interests.

"The aircraft deal needed a proper investigation in view of allegations about its pricing" and the choice of Indian partners, Bhushan said.

Congress party President Rahul Gandhi has accused Modi's government of favoring a company owned by industrialist Anil Ambani, Reliance Group, when choosing an Indian partner for Dassault, the aircraft manufacturer.

Randeep Surjewala, a party spokesman, demanded a probe by a joint parliamentary committee.

The government has denied any wrongdoing.

The Supreme Court said "there was no substantial evidence of commercial favoritism to any private entity" and there was no reason to interfere with the issues of procurement, pricing and partner.

Dassault welcomed the court ruling.

"The deal is absolutely clean in accordance with Indian laws and regulations," Eric Trappier, chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, said in a statement.

The French company has said it has committed to side deals in India worth 50 percent of the value of the jet purchases. In order to deliver those side deals, it decided to create a joint venture with Reliance Group to manufacture some aircraft parts.

"Dassault Aviation will ensure successful production in the country through the Dassault Reliance Joint Venture in Nagpur as well as through a full-fledged supply chain network involving already 30 companies with which Dassault Aviation signed contracts and additional 60 companies currently under discussions," Trappier said.

The controversy has intensified following comments in October by former French President Francois Hollande — who was in charge when the deal was signed in 2016 + suggesting France had no say in selecting the Indian company.

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Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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