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Corporate espionage net widens, crucial papers leaked

By BS Reporters & PTI
February 21, 2015 09:08 IST
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The drama over the theft of confidential documents from the petroleum and natural gas ministry continued on Friday, with the crime branch of the Delhi Police arresting seven more persons on charges of leaking crucial papers, including a contribution for the upcoming Union Budget speech. 

Five senior executives of Reliance Industries (RIL), Essar, Cairn India, Jubilant Energy and ADAG Reliance were arrested late in the evening. Two consultants were held earlier in the day. 

This came a day after five persons, including ministry employees, were detained in a police crackdown on leaks from the ministry. With this, the total number of arrests in the case rose to 12. 

“We have arrested five [more] persons. Shailesh Saxena from RIL, Vinay Kumar from Essar, K K Naik from Cairn India, Subhash Chandra from Jubilant Energy and Rishi Anand from ADAG Reliance,” said Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ravindra Yadav late Friday night. 

According to Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ashok Chand, all these executives were receivers of the stolen documents that have been recovered by police teams during raids from their establishments. 

Saxena is manager (corporate affairs) at RIL; Chandra, senior executive at Jubilant Energy; Anand, deputy general manager (DGM) at ADAG Reliance; Vinay, DGM at Essar; and Naik, GM at Cairn India. They have been booked under the Indian Penal Code’s Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 411 (dishonestly receiving stolen property). 

In a statement, Reliance Power, an ADAG Reliance group company, said, “We are not aware of the circumstances in which one of our junior employees has allegedly been arrested. We will ensure full cooperation with the investigative agencies. The company adheres to the highest standards of corporate governance, and does not support any unlawful practices.” Since the fresh arrests happened late in the evening, other companies could not be contacted for comment. 

The alleged pilfering of secret documents, thought to have been a racket confined to the petroleum ministry, actually covered matters in finance, coal and power ministries, Delhi Police said. 

Earlier in the day, Santanu Saikia, a former journalist who runs the news website Indianpetro.com, and energy consultant Prayas Jain, whose office is in Delhi’s Patel Nagar area, were detained. They were questioned at the interstate cell in Chanakyapuri till late Thursday night. 

In the afternoon, the police took the accused, including multi-tasking staff Asharam and Ishwar Singh and two former employees Lalta Prasad and Rakesh Kumar, to the rooms of senior officials in the ministry for a reconstruction of the crime scene. 

The rooms allegedly accessed by them with duplicate keys included those of the joint secretary (refineries), joint secretary (exploration) and two directors.

Later in the day, the police presented the seven accused (held till the afternoon) before Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sanjay Khanagwal in the Patiala House Court complex. The crime branch told the court it had recovered documents related to the oil, coal and power ministries from Lalta Prasad, his brother Rakesh Kumar and their driver Raj Kumar Chaubey. 

The brothers were accused of stealing documents from the ministry with help from two government employees, Asharam and Ishwar Singh. Asharam would allegedly signal his sons Prasad and Kumar to enter the offices of the oil ministry once the minister had left for the day. He would shut down security cameras in the ministry's Shastri Bhavan office. Chaubey used to carry the documents to both Saikia and Jain. 

Saikia was accused of running articles based on these documents on his website and print newsletters. Saikia and Jain are also accused of selling these documents to corporate houses at exorbitant prices. 

After hearing arguments, Magistrate Khanagwal sent Singh, Chaubey and Asharam to judicial custody and the remaining accused to police custody for further interrogation. 

"The documents recovered from them have serious implications. We are sending these seized documents to the ministries concerned, asking them to analyse which are classified and privileged. On the basis of the ministries' reports, we will decide on applying charges under the Official Secret Act," said a source investigating the matter. 

The case was registered under Indian Penal Code's Sections 457 (trespass), 380 (theft), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine forged documents), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention). 

"Photocopy of documents with heading Input Material on National Gas Grid for inclusion in finance minister's Budget speech 2015-16 has been recovered from the accused," the Crime Branch stated in its First Information Report (FIR). 

The police have also recovered a letter from the prime minister's Principal Advisor Nripendra Misra. 

The other photocopied documents include a brief on further opportunities in Sri Lanka dated February 4, 2015, and the monthly gas report for December 2014 dated February 16, 2015. Other materials recovered from the possession of the accused include photocopies of a 'background note' on the performance of the upstream oil sector and others. 

Police alleged "incriminating" documents of other ministries such as coal and power were recovered from the possession of the accused, who were supplying these to certain companies for benefit. 

Regarding Ishwar Singh, Asharam and Chaubey, the police said as they were not required for custodial interrogation, they be remanded in judicial custody. 

Police sources claimed two sacks full of photocopied documents were recovered by them during raids at offices and residences of those arrested. 

Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi said these people did not steal specific documents and would just photocopy anything found on the table. 

Police and experts from various ministries are still in the process of examining the documents found from them to see what all were stolen. 

"The documents have to be examined in consultation with the specific officials and ministries concerned so that we can know about their security classification. Only then we can say if this falls in purview of Officials Secrets Act," Bassi said. 

Bassi said the police were investigating what kind of linkages these individuals had with the companies. 

"Until we are not sure whether there is an organisation involved, naming a company will not be appropriate," he told reporters who sought the name of the company allegedly involved in the racket. 

The police had on Thursday raided several establishments, including a building in Delhi that houses the offices of a private oil company. Regarding the RIL employee detained on Thursday, the Mukesh Ambani-owned company had said, "An internal probe is under way according to our robust internal standards. The matter is under investigation according to law and we are determined to cooperate in every possible manner." 

"We are investigating the beneficiaries of the documents. Their officials are being interrogated," said a source close to the investigations. Another police officer, who, too, spoke on condition of anonymity, said they had acted on a tip-off from the Intelligence Bureau and laid a trap. "One can expect some more arrests in the coming days, but it is not going to be a major case, as is being projected in the media," the officer added. 

Delhi Police Commissioner Bassi said action was taken on a tip-off on February 17 that two persons along with their associates were involved in procuring, obtaining and stealing official documents from the offices of the oil ministry in Shashtri Bhawan.

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