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France’s Macron dodges question over India fighter jet deal

France's President Emmanuel Macron addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has sidestepped a question over a multi-billion dollar deal to sell 36 fighter jets to India that has sparked controversy in the country.

In a news conference at the United Nations in New York, Macron said Tuesday he was “not in charge” when the deal was signed in 2016 through “a government-to-government discussion.”

The deal was for India to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault for $8.78 billion.

The leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, has accused Narendra Modi’s government of buying the aircraft at a highly inflated price — nearly triple the price being negotiated when Congress was in power before Modi became prime minister in 2014.

Gandhi also accused Modi’s government of favoring the company owned by industrialist Anil Ambani when choosing an Indian partner for Dassault.

India’s government has denied any wrongdoing.

The controversy has intensified in recent days following comments by former French President Francois Hollande suggesting France had no say in the choice of the Indian company.

Hollande, who was in charge in 2016, told French investigative website Mediapart: “We didn’t get the choice, we took the interlocutor we’d been given.”

France’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that the French government “is in no way involved in the choice of industrial partners that have been, are, or will be selected by French industry groups.”

Under the Indian procedure, French companies have the “freedom to choose Indian industry partners”, the ministry said.

Ambani’s company, Reliance Defense, has signed a contract with Dassault as its Indian strategic partner.

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