Broken door sent sleuths on corporate espionage trail; accused used govt stickers, fake IDs

  • HT Correspondent & PTI, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 22, 2015 15:09 IST

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 photo-copier 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 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.

The accused had set up a car with government stickers on it and fake identity cards which, cops said, they admitted to having had made by paying Rs. 4000. The cops said the accused would earn as much as Rs. 70,000 per transaction from the consultants.

The police told a court that during their investigations they discovered that Ram, who worked in the ministry, used to ferret out the documents to give to his associates Rakesh and others. To avoid detection, he would switch off the CCTV cameras in the vicinity.

One of the main accused Santanu Saikia has 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 envelope," 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.

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