NEW DELHI: Police on Thursday busted a “corporate espionage” ring with the arrest of five suspects, including two government officials, for allegedly leaking the classified policy documents of the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas to private firms.
A government source said around eight top private energy and consultancy firms were under the scanner.
“It is just the tip of the iceberg. The arrests have unravelled the deep penetration of corporates in the system. More arrests will be made in coming days.
“After analysing the documents, we will see whether the documents fall under the purview of the Official Secrets Act. Then the relevant sections will also be slapped on the accused,” Police Commissioner B S Bassi said.
Police have also detained a journalist and three officials working for private energy and petrochemical companies for questioning.
Bassi said the suspects had been operating from the ministry office at Shastri Bhawan for the past several years.
Two lower-division clerks -- Asharam and Ishwar -- are accused of copying policy documents which were later passed on to three other co-accused -- Lalta Prasad, Rakesh Kumar and Rajkumar Chaubey, he said.
“We are conducting raids at private companies, questioning people and trying to find out beneficiaries,” the police chief added.
Sources said it was a Joint-Director rank official of the ministry who tipped police off the espionage ring.
A source said the accused used to sell the documents for `20,000 and that others involved in the ring would subsequently pass them on to private companies for more than `5 lakh.
On Tuesday night, three people came to Shastri Bhawan in an Indigo car bearing the fake insignia of a government vehicle. Two of them went inside while the third sat in the car.
“After around two hours, when the two persons returned to the car, all the three persons were apprehended,” Bassi said.
They are Lalta Prasad, 36, Rakesh Kumar, 30, and Raj Kumar Chaubey, 39.
“Official documents, duplicate keys used by them for accessing the offices, forged ID cards and fraudulently obtained temporary passes were also recovered,” he said.
“It was revealed that Prasad and Kumar are brothers and both had earlier been temporarily employed as multi-tasking staffers at Shastri Bhawan,” he said.
Their interrogation further disclosed that they were assisted by their fathers, Asharam and Ishwar Singh, both multi-tasking staffers at Shastri Bhawan. Police later them too.The accused told interrogators that they used to enter the offices of bureaucrats and the Petroleum Minister, take the documents and get them photocopied from there itself. In order to evade the CCTV cameras, they would get the cameras temporarily disabled when they entered the offices.
A case under the sections of theft, trespassing and cheating and criminal conspiracy has been registered against the accused.
Terming it a serious case, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said: “They will be severely dealt with. Police are probing the case. We will take strong action against the guilty. The government will come down hard on them,” he said. Asked whether any corporate lobbyist was involved, he said it was up to the police to investigate.
The leaked documents -- police claimed to have recovered around 1,000 photocopies -- had details of the policies used in oil exploration, pricing as well as imports.
However, this is not the first instance where confidential documents have been leaked to private firms.
In 2010, IAS officer Ravinder Singh, then posted in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), was arrested for leaking sensitive documents related to the Blackberry dispute to private firms.
In 2012, a retired wing commander was held by the CBI for leaking confidential documents to arms dealers.
In March 2013, MHA staffer Surendra was arrested by the Intelligence Bureau and Rajasthan Police for leaking classified information.
In the 1980’s, an espionage ring was busted in the highly secured Prime Minister’s Office(PMO) during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure.
Twelve government officials, known to belong to the “Coomar Narain spy ring”, mostly from the President’s Secretariat and the PMO, were arrested for selling top-secret documents to France and another western country.