Contractor who came in from the cold

A retired French naval officer is suspected to have engineered the Scorpene data leak.

Updated - November 17, 2021 03:53 am IST

Published - August 28, 2016 12:39 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Free-floating consultants play a crucial role in deciding the fate of billion-dollar deals. — File photo

Free-floating consultants play a crucial role in deciding the fate of billion-dollar deals. — File photo

The leak of documents about the Scorpene submarine provides an interesting insight into a not-so-well known aspect of the murky world of defence deals — of numerous free-floating consultants, many of them retired military personnel, who play a crucial role in deciding the fate of billion-dollar deals. They operate in addition to the unscrupulous middlemen who are integral to most deals.

Many senior officials who have dealt with foreign suppliers say that despite the avowed anti-corruption policies adopted by global military giants, middlemen and consultants are essential to their strategy to win a major deal.

Inside job

One such retired naval-officer-turned-contractor working with DCNS, the French submarine-maker, is believed to have spirited away the sensitive set of information, giving out much of the secret details of India’s yet-to-be deployed diesel-electric submarines.

The Australian newspaper says the retired French naval officer may have spirited out the data to a southeast Asian country in 2011. Most important, he was using that data to swing a contract with that Asian country for training, says Cameron Stewart, the reporter with The Australian who scooped the story.

It is possible that the officer-turned-consultant was targeting the Malaysian Navy, which ordered the Scorpene submarines in 2002.

Such individual contractors play a crucial role by being part of the legitimate part of a contract. They could be working for major suppliers involved in the contract, or act as sub-contractors, or could even be part of the negotiations representing the arms dealer without disclosing the fact.

According to senior retired and serving military officials, whenever foreign firms are engaged in contesting for an Indian contract, such foreign and Indian consultants get into the act.

“We are well aware of the way Indian arms dealers operate, and the kind of people they deploy. However, the presence of foreign consultants/contractors, who pop up at various stages of a contract, is quite baffling,” a senior officer said.

‘Too many consultants’

An official, who has dealt with the Scorpene submarine contract, said in Mumbai that the set of French officials, who would appear one day for Armaris — the primary contractor — would represent DCNS, a sub-contractor, the next day.

“They probably were not employees of either,” he said. There were far too many consultants and individual contractors from France involved in the Scorpene submarine contract, he recalled.

Foreign hands

“For someone involved in it, there is nothing more than his access to the confidential details that can be shown to a potential new client,” the officer said, speculating why a former consultant to the contract would run away with so much of data, if espionage was not the motive.

Another officer who had been involved in the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal that the air force signed in 2010, which later snow-balled into a huge scandal, said there were foreign consultants who popped up regularly.

“They would be retired British military personnel or others. Clearly, most of them were not employees of AgustaWestland,” he said.

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