Police take away accused in Petroleum Ministry document leak, from Shastri Bhavan in New Delhi, Feb. 20. (Shirish Shete | PTI)
Delhi Police busted another module allegedly involved in leaking confidential documents from Coal and Power ministries with the arrest of an energy consultant and detention of at least six more in the corporate espionage case, Feb. 23. A Press Trust of India report.
Indian government has ordered security audit of official computers and security vetting of staff of major Ministries and departments following detection of corporate espionage.
The decisions have been taken at a high-level meeting convened by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth and attended by top officials, including Home Secretary L.C. Goyal, Feb. 24.
It was also decided that present access control mechanism in the ministries and departments will undergo sweeping changes while electronic surveillance will be upgraded to ensure a “leak-proof” system, official sources said.
Each ministry and department will appoint a Joint Secretary-level officer as departmental security officer to ensure foolproof security of official documents and computers.
The meeting decided that manual of departmental security instructions prepared by the Home Ministry will be issued to each of the ministry and department, sources said.
Following the detection of corporate espionage case, the government has decided to crackdown on those who are involved in leaking of official documents.
The decisions of the high-level meeting were part of the government’s move to tighten security of ministries and departments and stop leakage of documents and other information.
Cracking down on a suspected case of corporate espionage, Delhi Police arrested two junior Oil Ministry officials and three other persons for allegedly leaking classified government documents to energy companies.
Two energy consultants Santanu Saikia and Prayas Jain and five senior executives from top energy firms identified as Shailesh Saxena from RIL, Vinay Kumar from Essar, K.K. Naik from Cairns, Subhash Chandra from Jubilant Energy and Rishi Anand from ADAG Reliance were arrested.
A casual worker in the Defense Ministry has also been arrested for allegedly providing forged identity card to a key accused in the Petroleum Ministry leaks case.
More arrests are likely soon as search and raids were continuing in Delhi and NCR in this connection. Police was also looking into the financial transactions of the people arrested so far in the case to understand the money trail and identify the individuals or companies who benefited in the case, sources said.
The Crime Branch has registered a new FIR under various sections of IPC relating to trespass, criminal conspiracy, forgery and fraud in this case as this module operated independent of the one involved in the Petroleum ministry racket in which 12 people have been arrested so far.
During the investigation of the first case and questioning of energy consultants Santanu Saikia and Prayas Jain, the name of one Lokesh Sharma (33) came up as another “active player” in the game.
“It was revealed that one Lokesh Sharma is involved in procuring/stealing official/secret documents from Ministry of Coal, Shastri Bhawan and Ministry of Power, Shram Shakti Bhawan, Rafi Marg, Delhi with the help of his associates, in connivance of some staff of these Ministries,” Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ravindra Yadav told reporters.
Accordingly, a raid was conducted after mounting surveillance over the activities of Lokesh Sharma, a resident of Uttam Nagar in West Delhi and he was nabbed from Dwarka in southwest Delhi along with two forged identity cards of the Ministries of Coal and Power and copies of various official/secret documents.
As it came to fore that he procured documents from ministry officials, police picked up three people from the Coal Ministry and one from the Power Ministry in this connection for questioning. Three persons have also been detained for questioning who have links to the first module, sources said.
Lokesh’s father had at some point of time worked as a driver in a ministry and because of this he was aware of the loopholes which he exploited for his advantage.
According to Yadav, Lokesh was an “active player” in the whole racket. He was an employee of energy consultancy firm called Infraline based in Noida. He used to procure documents from the Ministry of Coal, Power and Petroleum with the help of staff posted in these Ministries.
“He was very smart and besides providing documents to his own consultancy firm, he used to sell documents to some other energy consultants as well on commercial basis to two to three companies as well and we are investigating them as well.
“Two recipients, Santanu Saikia of Indian Petro Group and Prayas Jain of Metis Energy Solutions have already been arrested while raids are continuing on other receivers of stolen documents,” he said.
Police sources said that this module was working for a long time while the first racket is believed to have been in operation for the last two years.
Asked about the consultancy firm, Infraline, Lokesh told police that it is a company which has 60 to 65 employees, a website and a magazine named Infraline Plus which is widely circulated in the ministries and the industry.
When asked about the new module’s area of operation and who all benefited from it, Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi said since the FIR was registered on Feb. 22, the police would be able to give details only after arresting Lokesh’s associates.
Questioned about the need for filing a separate FIR, Bassi said, “It is a second module. It is separate and has no linkages with that particular case though it belonged to the same class. Since it lacked linkages, we have arrested him under a separate FIR.”
It is being touted as a major ‘corporate espionage’ story involving large business houses, but it was an amateurish rushed job by players on the ground that blew the lid off a long-running syndicate leaking ‘secret’ official documents from the oil ministry.
First, an important document was found lying on a photocopier machine one morning about eight months ago in the Ministry, soon after the new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office.
The suspicion grew further when the door of a director’s room was found to be compromised and a thorough probe was launched to catch those transporting ‘secret’ documents out of the Ministry, culminating into what is now being talked about as a major crackdown on a suspected ‘corporate espionage’ ring with a dozen arrests already.
It has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the national capital that key official documents often find their way to the corporates and their lobbyists from the the small rooms and narrow corridors of the famed Shastri Bhawan, which houses many key ministries.
What has surprised many is the modus operandi of breaking into the rooms late in night with the help of duplicate keys and ID cards. However, one of the main accused Shantanu Saikia has now claimed that it was a Rs. 10,000-crore scam and he was only doing the “cover-up” job.
While refusing to identify the specific instance that led to the probe, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan told PTI, “We had discomfort (over a certain incident) and the competent authorities were informed.”
Duplicate keys were apparently made for seven rooms including that of Special Secretary, two Joint Secretaries – and some Directors dealing with sensitive issues like exploration policy, petroleum pricing and gas pricing.
Locks have been changed for all rooms since then and the Ministry is now also strictly adhering to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of handing critical information.
“Any secret file or document has to be hand-delivered or sent in a sealed envelop,” Oil Secretary Saurabh Chandra said.
Besides, it has been decided that many other standard drills will also be followed in “letter and spirit.”
“There is an SOP. That has to be strictly adhered to, right from my office to down below,” Pradhan said.
Sources said that it was sometime in June last year when some critical documents were found on a photocopier machine when room of a Joint Secretary was opened in the morning.
Adding to the seriousness of the matter, the concerned Joint Secretary was considered very critical of a large corporate house on matters related to a gas pricing issue.
Initially, the top officials of the Ministry suspected hand of some internal staff. Still they enhanced the vigilance and officials began locking their rooms even while going to washrooms, sources said.
However, the situation became much more serious when the door of a Director was found compromised about two months ago.
This led to the Ministry ordering a through investigation and heightened surveillance, including large-scale installation of CCTV cameras across offices.
This was followed by days of enhanced vigil and surveillance by sleuths and eventually a trap was laid by the Delhi Police, resulting in the arrest of five persons including two junior staff in the Ministry. More arrests have been made since then.
Asharam, 58, who was brought in as multi-tasking staff in the Petroleum Minister’s office during S. Jaipal Reddy’s time, and his associates Ishwar Singh, 56, allegedly made duplicate keys of the rooms of various key officials.
These keys were used to access the rooms in the middle of the night to photocopy the documents, which were later sold to energy consultants and corporates.
Sources said that the syndicate normally operated during the night, but about two months back they conducted their operation early in the morning when the door of the Director’s room was compromised.
The cleaning staff apparently found the door compromised and informed senior officials about the same.
The Ministry is still looking into how the alleged thieves could lay their hands on keys to seven rooms.
Sources said the accused allegedly used fake ID cards to enter Shastri Bhawan, which houses the Petroleum Ministry on the second floor, in the middle of the night.
They would use duplicate keys to open rooms of senior officials and photocopy the secret official documents.