Did Reliance get awarded for helping Julie Gayet?
The French President Francois Hollande had visited New Delhi as Republic Day 2016 Chief guest and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for delivering 36 Rafale aircraft.
It is more than a sheer co-incidence, that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment had entered into a deal to produce a film with Hollande’s partner and actor Julie Gayet, on 24th January, 2016, just two days before the visit. Reliance Entertainment and Gayet joined hands to jointly produce the French film, Rouge International. The movie was set to release in December 2017 under the title, Tout La-Haut.
This was eight weeks after Dassault Aviation chairman Eric Trappier and Ambani laid the foundation stone for DRAL manufacturing facility in Nagpur in the presence of then French Defence Minister Florence Parly; Roads and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Ambassador of France to India Alexandre Ziegler.
The 98-minute French film, was first screened at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain in 2017, and subsequently distributed in eight other countries including UAE, Taiwan, Lebanon, Belgium, Estonia and Latvia. However, though produced by Reliance Entertainment, Tout La-Haut has not been released in India as yet.
Later in the year, as reported by the Indian Express, ‘Reliance Defence’ became part of the offset programme of the Rs 59,000-crore Rafale deal through Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL), in which it holds a 51% stake. Dassault Aviation, the French manufacturer of Rafale, holds 49% stake in DRAL.
On the said Republic Day, both countries signed the MoU for the purchase of 36 jets in flyaway condition. The deal, called the ‘Inter- Government Agreement’, was expected to be signed during Hollande’s visit, however, was delayed due to “some financial issues”.
The deal for 36 Rafale jets was announced, negotiated between the two governments and signed during the presidency of Hollande, when Gayet was staying with him in Elysee palace in Paris. Hollande was President of France from May 2012 to May 2017 and his relationship with Gayet was made public in January 2014.
The first announcement of Dassault and Reliance creating a JV in India as a “key player” for execution of offset obligations was made in October 2016, during the regime of Hollande’s Presidency. This was just 10 days after the deal worth Rs. 59,000 crore was signed between Indian and French Defence ministers in New Delhi on September 23, 2016, with a clause for 50% offset obligations.
The Indian Express contacted both Rouge International as well as Reliance Entertainment via telephone, email and SMS, however, questions pertaining to Tout La-Haut and the company’s investments in European films remain unanswered.
Under the offsets clause, France is to invest 50 per cent of the total order cost in local contracts in India, worth Rs 30,000 crore. The offset obligations of the deal are to be discharged from September 2019 to September 2023, as per the contract.
The offset of Rafale, was the first project of this magnitude won by Reliance Defence, and which got placed at the center of a major political controversy. Opposition parties, including the Congress taking the lead, have alleged that unjustified favours had been granted to Ambani’s firm in this deal, a company without prior defence manufacturing experience.
As alleged by the Indian National Congress, this deal was done at the cost of public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore that was to make the aircrafts in India as per the earlier 126 aircraft deal scrapped by the BJP government.