A judicial investigation has been ordered by France’s national financial prosecutors’ office (PNF) to look into alleged ‘corruption’ and ‘favouritism’ in the Rs590bn ($7.94bn) Rafale fighter jet deal with India.

French investigative website Mediapart reported probe has been ordered after fresh reports on suspected wrongdoings in the deal and a complaint filed by Sherpa, a France-based financial crime specialist non-governmental organisation (NGO).

India’s current National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had signed a deal on 23 September 2016 to procure 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace firm Dassault Aviation.

This deal was signed by India after an almost seven-year exercise to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for its airforce did not materialise.

Mediapart reported: “The highly sensitive probe into the inter-governmental deal signed off in 2016 was formally opened on June 14th.”

The news agency further reported: “The criminal investigation led by an independent magistrate, an investigating judge, will, among other elements, examine questions surrounding the actions of former French president Francois Hollande, who was in office when the Rafale deal was inked, and current French president Emmanuel Macron, who was at the time Hollande’s economy and finance minister, as well as the then defence minister, now foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.”

On earlier occasions, Dassault Aviation and India’s Ministry of Defence had denied allegations of any corruption in the deal.

In 2019, India’s Supreme Court too dismissed petitions urging for an investigation into the deal, citing that there was sufficient ground for it.

India’s opposition parties allege each aircraft has been procured at a cost of more than Rs16.7bn ($225m) as against Rs5.26bn ($71m) finalised by the former UPA government during the talks for the MMRCA.

In October 2019, the Indian Defence Ministry received the first Rafale fighter aircraft during an official handover ceremony at Dassault Aviation’s facility in Merignac, France.

India chose Rafale over other proposals, including Lockheed Martin-built F-16, Boeing’s F/A-18, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab’s Gripen fighter, and Russian-made MiG-35.

The induction of 36 Rafale aircraft into the Indian Air Force is expected to be completed by 2022.