The sensational corporate espionage scandal on Friday got murkier with the arrest of two energy consultants as confidential documents including an input for the upcoming Finance Minister’s budget speech were allegedly leaked in the whole operation.
The alleged pilfering of ‘secret’ documents, which was thought to have been a racket confined to the Petroleum ministry, actually covered matters in finance, coal and power ministries, Delhi Police said today.
After Thursday’s arrest of five people, including two Oil Ministry staffers and three middlemen, two energy consultants–Santanu Saikia, a former journalist, now running a petro web portal and Prayas Jain–were arrested on Friday as they were suspected to be receivers of the stolen documents.
“We have arrested two people, one of them is Santanu Saikia and the other is Prayas Jain. Both of them are some sort of independent consultants. One of them (Saikia) runs a website where he would run his analysis and people would subscribe to it. These to have been arrested and investigation is on,” Police Commissioner B S Bassi said.
The case FIR, produced in a local court, said an input on the National Gas Grid for the Finance Minister’s budget speech of 2015-16 is among the various “secret” documents recovered from the accused.
Besides, police has also recovered a letter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Principal Secretary Nripendra Misra, according to the FIR in the case presented to Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sanjay Khanagwal, who heard the proceedings for remand of the accused.
“Photocopy of documents with heading input material on National Gas Grid for inclusion in Finance Minister’s budget speech 2015-16,” the crime branch has said in its FIR filed in the case.
All the seven were produced before Khanagwal who remanded Lalta Prasad and Rajesh Kumar (Oil Ministry staffers) and Jain and Saikia to police custody till February 23 after police said “sensitive” documents have been recovered.
Police alleged that “incriminating” documents of the Coal, Power and other ministries were recovered from the possession of the accused who were supplying these to certain corporate houses for benefit.
Regarding the other three accused–Ishwar Singh, Asharam and Rajkumar Chaubey, the police said they were not required for custodial interrogation, so they be remanded in judicial custody.
Police sources claimed that two sacks full of photocopied documents were recovered by them during raids at offices and residences of those arrested in this connection so far.
Talking about the issue, Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi on Friday said that these people did not steal specific documents and would just photocopy anything found on the table.
Police and experts from different ministries are still in the process of examining the documents found from them to see what all kind of documents were stolen.
“The documents have to be examined in consultation with the specific officials and concerned ministries so that we can know about their security classification. Only then we can say if this falls in purview of Officials Secrets Act,” he said.
Police said that the duo used to receive the stolen documents from the ministries. Sources said that another junior official working at Shastri Bhavan was also detained by the police for questioning and further arrests may take place while raids were still being carried out by police teams.
Bassi said that the police was investigating what kind of linkages these individuals had with companies.
“Until we are not sure whether there is a 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.
Saikia is a former journalist who runs a web portal on petroleum issues and has his office in Defence Colony in South Delhi. Jain runs his consultancy firm in Patel Nagar in Central Delhi.
On Friday police took five of the accused to the Petroleum Ministry. They were taken to the rooms of senior officials which they had allegedly accessed using duplicate keys.
The rooms that they had allegedly accessed in the middle of the night to steal official documents included rooms of joint secretary (Refineries) and joint secretary (Exploration), besides rooms of some directors.
The bunch of keys allegedly found in their possession were used to open the rooms of top ministry officials they are suspected to have accessed, police sources said.
The rooms they had allegedly accessed included that of Special Secretary, two joint secretaries and some directors dealing with sensitives issues like exploration policy, petroleum pricing and gas pricing.
Asharam (58) and Ishwar Singh (56) were employed as multi-tasking staff in the ministry.
The other arrested persons include Lalta Prasad and Rakesh Kumar, brother and son of Asharam, who were previously employed as multi tasking staff at Shastri Bhawan.
Sources said the ministry was first alerted about the theft of official documents some months ago when some critical documents with the then Joint Secretary (Exploration) Giridhar Armane, were found in a photocopier machine when rooms were opened in the morning. The ministry internally probed the issue.
The door of Director Prashant S Lokhande was found compromised about two months back following which the ministry ordered a through investigation and CCTV cameras were installed.
Asharam, while being taken to the court, said, “I am innocent” and blamed his sons for the whole thing.
As crime branch officials whisked him away, he said, “I came to know of this on February 17. I have not done anything.
Mera beta zimvewar hai (my son is responsible).”
Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said he wants the guilty to be brought to book and would comment only after the investigation is complete. “Let the investigation be over. No one will be spared,” he said.
Sources said the accused allegedly used fake ID cards to gain access to Shastri Bhawan, the building that houses the Petroleum Ministry, in the middle of the night.
They would allegedly use the duplicate keys to open rooms of senior officials and photocopy secret official documents for sale to corporates and consultancy firms.
The rooms that they had alleged accessed to steal official documents included rooms of Special Secretary Rajive Kumar, Joint Secretary (Refineries) Sandeep Poundrik, Joint Secretary (Exploration) U P Singh and Director (Exploration-1) Nalin Kumar Srivastava among others.
Sources said the locks of all the rooms are being changed and security and vigilance enhanced.