Leaks in ministries: Fresh arrest exposes new espionage racket

New Delhi (IANS): On a day when President Pranab Mukherjee promised stricter government action against corruption, the ramifications of the leaks in the petroleum and other ministries widened as Delhi Police claimed to have busted a parallel racket in purloined documents with the arrest of another man and the questioning of seven employees of two ministries.

In its ongoing probe into the leakage of classified documents of the petroleum and coal ministries, the Crime Branch of Delhi Police unearthed a new racket with the arrested of Lokesh Sharma, a 33-year-old employee with Noida-based energy consultant company Infraline Energy.

Sharma, who was arrested Sunday, was produced before Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Satish Arora in a Dwarka court which sent him to five days in police custody.

“We have arrested one more person, Lokesh Sharma, who used to provide stolen documents of the coal and petroleum ministries to some corporate houses. His arrest led us to bust another racket,” Delhi Police chief B.S. Bassi told the media.

Meanwhile, seven employees of the coal and petroleum ministries were picked up by police from Shastri Bhawan — that has offices of various ministries including coal, power and petroleum — and questioned them for over eight hours.

Lal Babu and Ranjit Mahto, employees of the coal ministry, along with five petroleum ministry employees — Bhupendra, Amit, Virendra, Ram Kishore and Surender — were those questioned by police.

“We have issued notice to all the seven government employees to appear before the probing team again Tuesday,” said Special Commissioner of Police Taj Hasan.

Giving information about Sharma, police said he dealt with documents being stolen from the coal and power ministries and passed them to his employers.

Police sources said the corporate espionage was not limited to the petroleum ministry as Sharma also used the stolen information from the coal and power ministries for Infraline Energy, for which he was working.

The firm has a huge database of subscribers, both individuals and corporates.

Police said a second FIR has been registered against Sharma and some other people as they were found to be part of another racket in which they used to provide classified documents related to the petroleum, power and coal ministries.

The sources said the Crime Branch got information about Sharma during its probe into the petroleum ministry leak that was unearthed on the night of Feb 17, with the arrest of two former multi-tasking employees of Shastri Bhawan.

Sharma, who went missing a day after the espionage case came to light, was detained a day before his arrest Sunday.

Police sources said they were on the lookout for Rajiv Singh, a coal ministry employee, a man named Jitender and also some of Lokesh Sharma’s associates.

More arrests can take place, including from the corporate and government sectors, the sources added.

A court here on Monday sent former journalist Santanu Saikia and three others to judicial custody till March 6 in the petroleum ministry documents leak case.

Before being taken to the court, Saikia told reporters that Delhi Police officers took his signatures on five-six blank sheets of papers.

Saikia, who runs a web portal and previously covered the crime beat for several years, was sent to 11-day judicial custody along with Prayas Jain, a Melbourne-based energy consultant, and Rakesh Kumar, 30 and Lalta Prasad, 36 – both brothers and residents of Delhi.

Delhi Police is likely to summon the seniors of the five corporate officials arrested in the petroleum ministry leakage case, asking them to join the investigations, sources said Monday.

Police said they were analysing the documents recovered from all the accused, with the help of the petroleum, coal and power ministries to ascertain the nature of the documents.

An official said the Official Secrets Act would be invoked if any secret documents were found.

Those sent to police custody till Feb 24 are Reliance Industries corporate affairs manager Shailesh Saxena, Jubilant Energy senior executive Subash Chandra, Reliance ADAG DGM Rishi Anand, Essar DGM Vinay and Cairns India GM K.K. Naik.

Meanwhile, the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group said Monday that no police raids were conducted at any of its offices across the country.

“No search or raid has been conducted by police authorities at any office of the Reliance Group anywhere in India,” the company said in a statement.

Stating that it was “not aware” of the circumstances leading to the arrest of Anand, the group said it was fully cooperating with the authorities in the investigation.

“The work station of only one specific Reliance Power employee was searched, and no incriminating material of any kind was found,” the statement said.

“We are committed to propriety in all our business dealings, and do not support unlawful activities of any nature,” it added.

What has emerged till now is that no senior official has been complicit in the leakage of documents.

President Mukherjee, in his address to the joint session of parliament on the opening day of the budget session Monday, said: “While introducing stricter and sterner measures to deal with corruption, an effort is being made to ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect bona fide decisions taken in public interest and to inspire confidence in the civil service.”