NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is "acting as Anil Ambani's middleman", Rahul Gandhi said today in his latest allegation linked to the Rafale controversy, citing an email that he said revealed the industrialist had visited Paris and met with the French Defence Minister, 10 days before the PM went there and announced the 36-jet deal with France. The Congress president alleged that Anil Ambani was aware of the deal when even "the Defence Minister and Foreign Secretary didn't know".

"PM has compromised national security, he has done what spies do," Rahul Gandhi said in a press conference, citing an email of an official of Airbus; several employees of the plane-maker were reportedly in the meeting between Anil Ambani and French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The email by Airbus official Nicolas Chamussy, dated March 28, 2015 and marked to three recipients with the subject line "Ambani", described the meeting as "confidential and planned as you can imagine with very short notice".

Holding up a copy of the email, Rahul Gandhi said: "Anil Ambani, who met the French Defence Minister, mentioned an MoU he is looking forward to sign after the Indian prime minister's visit to France. Mr Ambani says he is first looking to make commercial helicopters. This is a breach of the Official Secrets Act. The PM is the only other person who knows about this. In fact, Anil Ambani opened his company after this meeting. The PM is acting as Anil Ambani's middleman, it is in black-and-white for anyone who reads the email."

Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence has said "facts are being deliberately twisted and reality being ignored" and that the visit had nothing to do with Rafale. A spokesperson says the industrialist visited France to discuss a deal for more than 100 Naval Utility Helicopters for which the government had sought information from international helicopter manufacturers in 2015.

"The purported email being referred by the Congress party is regarding the discussion between Airbus and Reliance Defence regarding Civil and Defence Helicopter Programs under 'Make in India'. Discussion on proposed MoU was clearly with reference to cooperation between Airbus Helicopter and Reliance. It had NO connection whatsoever with Government to Government Agreement between France and India for 36 Rafale aircraft," said a Reliance Defence spokesperson.

The Airbus email cited by Congress said Anil Ambani "told them he intends to work with Airbus Helicopters on commercial helos and then on defence." He is also said to have "mentioned a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in preparation and the intention to sign during the PM visit".

According to Reliance Defence, Airbus had told Anil Ambani that there were "other potential partners" and the deal fell through. Airbus decided to continue working with the Mahindra Group.

Rahul Gandhi dismissed the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General's) report on the Rafale deal, which, according to sources, doesn't mention pricing at all as the government called it classified information.

"CAG is Chowkidaar Auditor General report, written by Chowkidaar, audited by Chowkidaar," he said, taking the name that he uses to target PM Modi.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a stinging rebuttal, said: "How Rahul Gandhi got the email of a private company is in a cloud. Regardless of the shameful manner in which Rahul Gandhi is acting as a lobbyist for companies, the country will not bend. The country needs fighter planes and good defence equipment."

The minister also hit out at the Congress president for calling PM Modi a traitor. "During your father and grandmother's time there was corruption. But we never called them traitors. Today you have put muck on your face by making this false allegation."

The Congress alleges that the government went for an overpriced deal for Rafale jets to benefit Anil Ambani, whose Reliance Defence is one of the offset partners for Rafale maker Dassault. Both Dassault and Anil Ambani have denied the Congress allegations.
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