Indian INC Bigwigs Reliance Industries, Essar, Cairn India, R-ADAG involved in corporate espionage case, Leading Media Group TV 18 downplays the report, editors instructed to run Bihar Story on a day when vial informations including budget papers leaked!
Watergate blew up after a break-in at the Washington hotel. What looks like an audacious corporate espionage racket in India began to unravel with a breakout from a ministry.Reliance Industries, India’s largest private company, was tonight striving to clear the air after one of its employees was detained and its office in Connaught Place searched as part of a probe into data theft from the petroleum ministry.
Executives of at least four leading energy firms, two consultancy companies and a dozen others are being questioned for their alleged involvement in leak of official documents from the Petroleum Ministry, Delhi Police said Thursday. The sweep follows the arrest of five men including two government employees.
Cracking down Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries (RIL), Ruia’s of Essar, Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta group company Cairn India and Anil Ambani-led Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani Group (R-ADAG) on a suspected case of corporate espionage, Delhi Police on Thursday arrested two Oil Ministry officials, RIL staffer and two other middlemen for allegedly leaking classified government documents to energy companies for money – on Friday, former journalist Santanu Saikia was arrested.
Following up on the arrests, raids were conducted at several establishments including a prominent building in Connaught Place which houses offices of a leading private petroleum firm believed to be Reliance Industries and it went on late in the night.
Disclosing details of the case, Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi told newsmen that action was taken on a tip off that two persons along with their associates were involved in “procuring, obtaining and stealing the official documents by trespassing into the offices of Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas at Shastri Bhawan on February 17.” They used to intrude in the night, he said.
“A trap was laid and three persons came in an Indigo car near Shastri Bhawan. Two persons alighted and went inside while the third remained sitting in the car. After around two hours, when the two persons entered the car, all three persons were apprehended,” he said.
They were identified as Lalta Prasad (36), Rakesh Kumar (30) and Raj Kumar Chaubey (39). Official documents were recovered from them.
Sources said that more arrests are likely in this case, being probed by elite Crime Branch, in the next couple of days.Reliance Industries said it has been brought to the company’s notice that one personnel has been detained by law-enforcement authorities.“We are unaware of more details. An internal probe is underway as per our robust internal standards. The matter is under investigation as per law and we are determined to cooperate in every possible manner.Reliance Industries, Reliance Industries news, Mukesh Ambani, Essar, Ruias, Cairn India, Anil Agrawal, ANil agrawal cairnCracking down Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries (RIL), Essar, Cairn, R-ADAG on a suspected case of corporate espionage, Delhi Police on Thursday arrested two Oil Ministry officials, RIL staffer and two other middlemen for allegedly leaking classified government documents to energy companies for money. (Reuters)
“We are already in International Arbitration with the said ministry on all important matters. Our only expectation is a fair and expeditious resolution of our legal rights and contentions by the Arbitrators,” a company official said.
An earlier statement that there was no information residing in the ministry which was of commercial consequence to us was dropped by the company later.Bassi said documents were stolen, photocopied and leaked from the Oil Ministry in return for money and the investigators will soon apprehend the recipients of the papers.He said the theft and leaking of confidential documents may have been going on for years. Bassi said this was being leaked to certain independent consultants and energy companies some of whom are being interrogated.Petroleum Ministry, Petroleum Ministry document leak, Petroleum document leak, corporate espionagePetroleum Ministry espionage case: Office of Reliance Industries, Barakhamba road, where raid was conducted in New Delhi. Express photo By Amit Mehra.
Terming it as a serious case, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said strong action would be taken against the the employees of his ministry who allegedly leaked the documents to private companies.
Dharmendra Pradhan, Petroleum Ministry, Reliance Industries, Reliance Industries man arrested, Essar, Crain, RDAG, corporate espionageTerming it as a serious case, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said strong action would be taken against the the employees of his ministry who allegedly leaked the documents to private companies. (PTI)
“They will be severely dealt with. Police are probing the case. We will take strong action against the guilty. Government will come down hard on them,” he said when asked about the case.
Asked whether any corporate lobbyist could be involved, the Petroleum 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 said.
According to police, during interrogation it was revealed that Lalta Prasad and Rakesh Kumar are brothers and both had earlier been temporarily employed as Multi Tasking Staff at Shastri Bhawan.
“In the year 2012, both left the employment. During their stint at Shastri Bhawan, they realised that they could easily lay hand on the official documents. “They further disclosed that they were assisted by their father Asharam and Ishwar Singh, both Multi Tasking Staff employees at Shastri Bhawan. Following which, Asharam (58) and Ishwar Singh (56) were also arrested,” said Joint Commissioner Ravindra Yadav. (Read more: Corporate lobbyist ) Location of Petroleum Ministry on Google Maps: View Larger Map Bassi said that all those who are recipients of stolen property will be questioned and action taken. If the documents fall under the purview of the Official Secrets Act, then the relevant sections will also be imposed. “We have recovered duplicate keys used by them for accessing the offices of the MoPNG officials, forged ID card and fraudulently obtained temporary passes were also recovered. “The Indigo car was having an unauthorised signage declaring the car to be of Bharat Sarkar/Government of India and case was registered at Crime Branch Police Station,” said Ravindra Yadav. Recently, CCTV cameras were installed at Shastri Bhawan. In order to evade the surveillance of the CCTV cameras, they got disabled CCTV cameras during the time they entered Shastri Bhawan. Those arrested have been booked under IPC sections for trespassing, forgery, theft and others. “We are questioning the recipients too. We will catch everyone involved,” Bassi said. Pradhan said no one involved in the case will be spared. “Government is very strict on such things… very strict action within the purview of the law will be taken against all those involved,” he said.Vigilance was kept after official documents appeared in public domain, he said adding 2-3 persons of his ministry and outside have been arrested by police.Leakage of official documents was a hindrance in running of a free and fair government, he said, adding that the law will take its own course in the matter.“Those behind this… whosoever is behind, will be booked. Let police do its own job, everything will come out,” he said.
In a case reminiscent of the spy scandal in mid 80s, some journalists who claimed to be independent energy consultants, and employees of certain petro companies were also said to have been detained for questioning in the development that has set off sensation in political and corporate circles
Delhi police’s crime branch has arrested five persons, including a clerk and a peon from the Union petroleum ministry, on charges of selling confidential documents, including policy papers, to some private companies ahead of the annual budget.
Other than the employee of Reliance Industries Ltd, owned by Mukesh Ambani, 15 people were being questioned till late tonight. Among the 15 is a journalist who was in the news in 2008 under completely different circumstances.
The police were conducting searches in the first-floor office of Reliance at Gopal Das Building in Connaught Place. The police said nine companies dealing in energy were under the scanner.”A full-fledged probe is on and provisions of the Official Secrets Act may be slapped on the arrested persons later,” Delhi police commissioner B.S. Bassi said.He said the confidential documents had been leaked to certain independent consultants and companies working in the energy sector.
“A preliminary probe has revealed that corporate espionage at the ministry of petroleum and natural gas at Shastri Bhavan, less than 300 metres from Parliament House, was going on for the past several years. All those who are recipients of stolen property will be questioned and action will be taken,” he added.
A preliminary probe has revealed that the confidential information was to be shared with some corporate houses working in the field of energy, sources said.
But the police are yet to connect all the dots, and the nature of the information that was stolen has not been made public yet.
The petroleum ministry is a repository of classified commercial information, including data on oil exploration, pricing and quantity of petroleum imports, gas pricing, approvals sought by state-owned oil firms for global acquisitions and presentations by potential foreign investors. The ministry is the nodal agency for decisions such as the supply of fuel to industrial units and defence forces and crude oil imports.
The oil ministry deals with market-sensitive information about giants like ONGC, BPCL, HPCL, the IOC, Gail India and Oil India.
Reliance Industries and the government are locked in two arbitration cases over a gas block, the KG-D6. One of these deals with allegations of inflated costs and lower production to bring down profits that need to be shared with the government. The other is related to the government deferring gas-pricing guidelines.
Over the years, some companies seem to have cultivated and put together a network of government officials to steal sensitive data, police sources said. The sources said a joint secretary-level official had alerted the police recently to the theft of files from the petroleum ministry’s office. On Tuesday evening, officers of the crime branch waited outside Shastri Bhavan.
An Indigo car carrying three people entered the premises. Two of the passengers went inside while the third remained in the car. The car sported signage that declared it to be the property of the Government of India, but it turned out to be fake.
“After around two hours, when the two persons came out of the building, the trio were arrested,” the police chief said.
They were identified as Lalta Prasad, 36, a resident of Khichdipur in Delhi, Rakesh Kumar, 30, a resident of Nauroji Nagar, and Raj Kumar Chaubey, 39, a resident of Vaishali in Ghaziabad.
“Official documents, duplicate keys used by them for accessing the offices, forged identity cards and fraudulently obtained temporary passes were found in their possession,” Bassi said.
During their interrogation, the police learnt that Lalta Prasad and Rakesh Kumar were brothers and had earlier been temporarily employed at Shastri Bhavan. In 2012, both had left their jobs.
“The duo told us that they were assisted by their father Asharam, 56, a clerk in the ministry, and Ishwar Singh, 57, a peon. Both Asharam and Ishwar were arrested later,” said a police officer.
The arrested persons told the police that they used to enter the offices of bureaucrats and the minister, take documents, photocopy them on the in-house machines and keep them back.
Recently, CCTV cameras were installed at Shastri Bhavan. “However, the CCTV cameras had been disabled when the trio entered the building,” an officer said. “They told us that they got good money from some companies for the documents.”
Till now, the police have registered cases under sections that deal with theft, trespass, cheating and criminal conspiracy.
“We are analysing the documents and will invoke the relevant sections if these documents fall under the purview of the Official Secrets Act,” an official added.
Reliance Industries tonight said it had launched a “robust internal probe” into the detention of one of its employees.
“It has been brought to our notice that one personnel has been detained by law-enforcement authorities. We are unaware of more details. As per SOP (standard operating procedure), a robust internal probe is under way,” a company official said.
“The matter is under investigation as per law and RIL is determined to cooperate in every possible manner. No information residing 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,” the official added.
Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan said strong action would be taken against the employees of his ministry who allegedly leaked the documents to private companies.
“They will be severely dealt with. The police are probing the case and we will take strong action against the guilty. The government will come down hard on them,” he said.The crime branch of Delhi police on Thursday arrested five persons on the charge of stealing classified documents of the petroleum ministry and took in for questioning a Reliance Industries and an Essar Group executive and a former journalist who runs energy portals, while claiming to take the lid off corporate espionage in economic ministries.
The police action followed complaints by the oil ministry and is said to have come after the Intelligence Bureau had tailed these persons and tipped off the police. “Sensitive” documents have reportedly been leaked from the ministry in recent times. These documents included internal communications on decisions with far-reaching commercial impact, such as gas pricing and arbitration cases against Reliance Industries with billions of dollars at stake.
Soon after the dramatic developments, oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan told TOI: “The law will take its own course. Nobody will be spared. No one is above the law. We are not going to work under any pressure. Such acts of pilferage of data and documents are detrimental to democracy and the objective of free and fair governance. Modiji has made it clear that this government will have zero tolerance towards corruption.”
Pradhan had ordered installation of CCTV cameras in the oil ministry soon after he took charge. Sources in the ministry said the transfer of two senior officials sometime back was also part of this effort to plug leakage of documents.
Two of those arrested have been working for the ministry as ‘multi-tasking service personnel’, while two others were former employees in the same category. The fifth person is allegedly their accomplice.
Apart from the two RIL and Essar executives, the crime branch also questioned Santanu Saikia, who runs energy portals, and Prayas Jain, who heads Australian energy firm Medit.
Investigators told TOI that those involved in stealing classified information, including information on policy changes and crude oil sourcing decisions, sold it to interested parties. The information not only helped relevant corporates, but was also used as insider information to take positions in the market.
A Reliance executive said, “It has been brought to our notice that one personnel has been detained by law-enforcement authorities. We are unaware of more details. An internal probe is underway as per our robust internal standards. The matter is under investigation as per law and we are determined to cooperate in every possible manner. We are already in international arbitration with the said ministry on all important matters. Our only expectation is a fair and expeditious resolution of our legal rights and contentions by the arbitrators.”
Investigators also raided the Reliance office in Gokuldas Tower in Connaught Place area and other premises in the Capital as well as in Haryana. Essar offices were also raided.
Police claimed its action has exposed a network of ‘moles’ cultivated by oil company executives employed specifically for liaising with underlings in the ministry who ferry files between officials and handle the filing systems. Police sources said the documents pertain to notes on policy proposals, minutes of meetings and intra-ministry communications.
Some of the documents were being sold by the moles for as little as Rs 5,000-10,000 but the information was subsequently processed and sold to business houses for a fat sum.
Joint commissioner of police Ravindra Yadav told TOI the stolen documents were being sold to private energy consultancies as well as petrochemical and energy companies. “More arrests are likely,” he said.