French prosecutors are investigating defence company, Thales SA, for alleged bribery in relation to a $2.5 billion contract it won in 2011 to modernise the Indian Air Force’s fleet of Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter jets, reported Bloomberg. The investigation pertains to allegations made by Fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, the report said.
A person privy to the probe told Bloomberg that the investigation was initiated following allegations made by Sanjay Bhandari, who claimed to have acted as a middleman in assisting Thales to win the contract. The case focuses on whether payments to Bhandari were hidden bribes. However, a company spokeswoman said that Thales has never been questioned by prosecutors on the subject and it “strongly disputes” the charges regarding alleged payments made by the company in connection with the project.
The Bloomberg report also stated that at 3.11 pm in Paris, Thales shares fell 3.5 per cent to €132.00, while Dassault Aviation SA, which produces the Mirage planes and holds a 25 per cent stake in Thales, saw a 2.6 per cent drop to €168.10.
Earlier on Friday, France Info reported on the bribery investigation involving Thales. The report stated that Sanjay Bhandari had filed a lawsuit claiming that Thales owed him money for his role in securing the contract. However, a French commercial court dismissed this claim in October.
According to the France Info report, Sanjay Bhandari seeking a settlement of €11 million, which he claims he was promised in exchange for his assistance in securing the contract for the modernisation of the Mirage-2000 fighter planes in India. Thales, along with Dassault (the major shareholder of Thales, along with the French State), won the $2.4 billion (1.6 billion euro) global contract on July 29, 2011.
Thales claimed that it had no contract with Bhandari or his companies in connection with this project.
Earlier this year, Fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari moved the UK high court against his extradition order issued by UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the Westminster court. Sanjay Bhandari’s extradition was ordered in connection with a money laundering case probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). The probe agency was fighting the case in a UK court on behalf of the Indian government.
Bhandari came under investigation by the ED after the Income Tax authorities lodged a complaint against him under the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015. On June 1, 2020, the ED filed a chargesheet in the case against Bhandari and other individuals involved in the conspiracy, including several companies established by Bhandari in foreign jurisdictions. The ED alleges that Bhandari, an arms dealer, concealed illicit funds overseas with the help of his accomplices in order to evade taxes, causing significant financial losses to the national treasury.