Employees of nine ministries under scanner for classified info leak
New Delhi: Employees of around nine ministries are under scanner for leaking confidential government documents to various companies and individuals.
A sheet of paper carelessly left behind in a photocopier has blown the cover off one of India’s biggest corporate spying scandals.
The crackdown on the ubiquitous malpractice that thrived during the UPA’s regimes is a significant success for the NDA government.
A surveillance operation was mounted by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) after the chance discovery of a classified documents.
Later handed over to the Crime Branch of Delhi Police, the probe led to the arrest of five persons by Wednesday night. Twelve other persons have been detained.
Those arrested include two employees of the Petroleum Ministry, Ishwar Singh and Asharam, and the latter’s sons Lalta Prasad (36), his brother Rakesh Kumar (30).
The fifth arrested man has been identified as Raj Kumar Chaubey, who was with the sons when they were apprehended outside Shastri Bhavan.
Among those detained are an employee of the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and a journalist running a petro news-related website.
Besides RIL, four other top corporates with interests in the oil and gas sector are on the government’s radar. Officials in some of these suspect companies have also been subjected to grilling by five police teams, though nothing of import has been found on them.
Following the surveillance launched by the IB on Tuesday, the north India headquarters of RIL at Gopal Dass Bhavan in Connaught Place was raided at 4pm on Wednesday. From the reception area, four police officers swiftly moved into the office of a suspect.
Armed with a search warrant, they quietly shut the door from the inside and started searching the premises and interrogating him. The team detained him after finding incriminating documents in the room.
The next stop was the dotcom journalist’s address, from where he was picked up at night. During sustained interrogation, he is said to have broken down and admitted to his role in the leak.
Meanwhile, the Centre has launched a massive investigation into the alleged leak of top-secret documents to certain independent consultants and energy companies in what seems to be a clear case of corporate espionage.
Sources in the government feel the crackdown signals a major relief for foreign investors who were wary of getting their secret data leaked to Indian corporate entities.
Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said his ministry’s arrested employees – Asharam and Ishwar Singh – would face strong action.
“Police are probing the case. The government will come down hard on the guilty,” he said.
On whether any corporate lobbyist could be involved, the minister said it was up to the police to investigate.
“The government was conscious… agencies are investigating. They will come out with full facts,” he added.
Pradhan said the leak was a serious issue.
“CCTV cameras have recently been installed in the ministry,” he emphasised.
But Lalta Prasad and Rakesh Kumar managed to disable the cameras at Shastri Bhavan during the two hours they were inside the high-security building to photostate secret government papers.
Meanwhile, the Mukesh Ambani-led RIL, which is locked in several arbitration cases with the Petroleum Ministry, has stated that it has launched a “robust internal probe” into the detention of one of its personnel.
“It has been brought to our notice that an employee has been detained by the law-enforcement authorities. We are unaware of more details. As per the SOP (standard operating procedure), a robust internal probe is underway,” a company official said.
“The matter is under investigation as per law and RIL will cooperate in every possible manner. No information…in the said ministry is of commercial consequence to us. We are in arbitration and our only expectation is an expeditious resolution in line with our legal rights and contentions,” he added.
Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi said a trap was laid at Shastri Bhavan following a tip-off.
“Lalta and Rakesh went inside Shastri Bhavan while Chaubey kept sitting in his Indigo car, which had a fake government sticker. When the brothers returned after two hours, all three were apprehended,” Joint Commissioner (Crime Branch) Ravindra Yadav said.
“The secret documents were obtained by individuals linked to companies operating in the energy sector. Ishwar Singh and Asharam used to leak classified papers for monetary considerations. The accused will be charged under Official Secret Act,” Bassi added.
The police said the ministry’s employees had been leaking sensitive information for almost two years for Rs 1,500 to Rs 20,000 depending on the document’s importance.
According to sources, the five people arrested for sharing classified documents have told investigators that several government officials have been constantly in touch with executives of various corporate houses.
“Ministries of mines, coals and corporate affairs, among others, are under scanner and it is possible that the Delhi Police will soon arrest more government officials. During interrogation, arrested employees of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG), Asharam and Ishwar Singh, said several ministry officials were in touch with firms and individuals,” a senior police official told Mail Today.
According to sources, the Delhi Police will conduct more raids in the Delhi-NCR in the coming days.
“The Delhi Police has made five teams led by inspectors to raid not only offices of those arrested but also their residences,” the source added.
The Delhi Police has recovered a number of tender-related documents after conducting raids in corporate offices on Wednesday and Thursday.
Besides that, the police seized documents, pen drives and laptops from the office of a private company working in the petrochemical industry.
According to sources, the government was apparently already aware that some corporate lobbyists might be involved in espionage.
“If the documents fall under the purview of the Official Secrets Act, then the relevant Sections will also be imposed,” the police officer said.
During the interrogation, it was revealed that the stolen documents were being sold to individuals of private energy consultancy companies as well as to those in the petrochemical and energy industry.
The accused persons allegedly charged between Rs 1,500 and Rs 20,000 to provide these documents to firms and individuals.