Arrested journalist passed on info to China, say police
Sanjeev Yadav, the deputy commissioner of police (special cell), said Sharma was allegedly in contact with a Chinese intelligence official whom the police only identified as Michael, and, since 2019, with another Chinese person identified as George . He sent Michael classified information related to Indian army deployment in the China-Bhutan-India tri-junction, including Doklam.Updated: Sep 20, 2020, 01:17 IST
The Delhi police on Saturday said that journalist Rajeev Sharma,61, arrested on charges of spying five days ago, allegedly passed on “sensitive and classified” information to Chinese intelligence agencies since 2016 and has been paid nearly Rs 40 lakh through various channels including hawala transactions and shell companies. Police said a 30-year-old Chinese woman, Qing Shi, and a Nepalese man, Sher Singh alias Raj Bohra, 30, have been arrested and booked along with Sharma under the Official Secrets Act.
Sanjeev Yadav, the deputy commissioner of police (special cell), said Sharma was allegedly in contact with a Chinese intelligence official whom the police only identified as Michael, and, since 2019, with another Chinese person identified as George . He sent Michael classified information related to Indian army deployment in the China-Bhutan-India tri-junction, including Doklam.
DCP Yadav said that the 2017 Doklam standoff happened just a few weeks after Sharma shared some classified information regarding India’s position, procurement and strategies on the border. Police said Sharma had also passed on information related to India’s military cooperation with Myanmar and other details about the border between India and China. According to investigating officials, Sharma has a Press Information Bureau (PIB) identity card, which he used to visit different government offices and get information from his contacts. The PIB card was issued in the mid-80s, when he was working with United News Agency and was valid till December 31, 2020. The police said that Sharma has told them that he visited the defence and external Affairs ministries to gather information to write his columns, he also took help from other journalists in getting details, by claiming that he wanted the information for his columns.
Sharma’s columns appeared in Mail Today, a newspaper from the India Today group, until June 7 this year, before it was shut down. The paper’s former editor, Dwaipayan Bose, said, “Since the case is being investigated we feel that to comment now is inappropriate.”
Specifics of the information collected and passed on by Sharma are not known. Nor is it clear how he came by classified information. The police said nothing about his contacts in the ministries.
HT learns that Sharma may have been caught on the basis of communication intercepts by intelligence agencies, but could not confirm this. Yadav admitted that Sharma’s arrest came after police received inputs from a central intelligence agency.
Sharma’s lawyer, senior advocate Adishi Aggarwala, denied the allegations. “As per the statement of the wife of my client (Sharma), the police did not recover any “classified and sensitive” documents from their home. She has told me that the police seized his laptop, mobile phone, bank statement, passport, income tax-related files, insurance documents , and other such documents. He had been writing articles, columns as a freelance journalist and was being paid for them, which is the job and right of any journalist. The charges against my client are false and he is innocent,” Aggarwala said.
Police said the investigation has revealed that the two other people arrested, Qing and Singh were the directors of two shells companies, MZ Pharmacy and MZ Malls , in Delhi’s Mahipalpur that were floated exclusively for the purpose of bringing money in from China and transferring it to Sharma in cash fin return for the information. The shell companies were set up in 2013 by Chinese nationals Jhang Chang and his wife Chang-li-lia, who, according to the police, identified themselves as Indian citizens Suraj and Usha.
Police said that at least three persons, including another freelance journalist, are being examined in the case . They did not identify these people.
DCP Yadav said that between 2010 and 2014 Sharma wrote columns for Global Times, a Chinese daily that is widely considered a mouthpiece for the Chinese government.
“Observing his columns, he was first contacted by a Chinese Intelligence officer, Michael, from Kunming city of China in 2016 through LinkedIn. Michael invited Sharma to Kunming City for an interview in a Chinese media company. His entire trip was funded by Michael. In the interview, he was told to pass on information on various aspects of India-China relations and assured money in return,” the officer said.
Sharma remained in contact with Michael and his junior Xou, since 2016 and passed on to them classified information related to Indian army deployments in the China-Bhutan-India tri-junction. DCP Yadav said Sharma met with Chinese intelligence officials in China, Laos and Maldives.
Yadav said that between 2016 and 2018, Sharma was in contact with Michael and Xou. The information were sent in “pointer format” through emails, and mobile applications such as Telegram and WhatsApp.
HT visited Sharma’s residence in Pitampura on Saturday but his house was locked. Neighbours said that on the night of September 13, at around 11.00 pm, police raided his house. A security guard who was on duty that night said, “At around 11 pm a group of men in a car ordered my colleague to open the society gates. As soon as the gate was opened, about seven-eight cars zoomed into the colony. Soon, about 30-35 men, all in plainclothes, surrounded Sharma’s house (on the ground floor) They left at around 2.30 am.”
Detailing Sharma’s alleged role after 2018, the special cell officer said, “In January 2019, Sharma came in contact with another Kunming-based Chinese person named George. He visited Kunming via Kathmandu and met George. George was introduced as a general manager of a Chinese Media Company. During the meeting, George asked Sharma to write and keep them informed about issues related to the Dalai Lama. For this, he was offered $500 per article. George told Sharma that they would send him money through a company operated by Qing.”
Before returning to China in 2018, the Chinese couple (Jhang Chang and his wife Chang-li-lia) made Qing Shi and Nepalase citizen Sher Singh alias Raj Bohra the directors of the two shell companies. Singh used to work as the couple’s driver, Yadav said.
Police said Qing Shi came to India in 2013 on a student visa and completed a nursing course from Jamia Millia Islamia. She is in India on a business visa.
The have also found that around Rs 500000 was transferred into the account of Sharma’s neighbour at Sharma’s behest.
“We questioned the neighbour, who is a prime witness in the case. The neighbour said that Sharma took his bank details for getting a money transfer. The money came into the account through multiple channels involving at least three different countries and some states in India,” added DCP Yadav.
Neighbours, who did not wish to be identified, said Sharma lives with his wife, an associate professor in the department of physics at a Delhi university college. The couple has been living in the colony for the last 20 years. Their son, an MBA, works in the US, police said.
In his Linkedin bio, Sharma has identified himself as a strategic analyst, political commentator, and maker of short films. He mentions he is a Masters in English Literature from Delhi university in 1981 and has been a journalist since 1982. He claims to have worked in various capacities such as correspondent, diplomatic correspondent and diplomatic associate editor with Tribune, Sakal Times and Eenadu Newstime.
Press Club of India President Anand K Sahay issued a statement describing Sharma as an “independent journalist of long-standing” and describing his arrest by the police as “high handed” and “inspired by obscure and questionable considerations.”
Sharma’s last post on Twitter (his account is currently suspended) on the day of his arrest read: “ Despite the five point peace reached between India and China in Moscow last week, China can still do mischief and the only mantra for lndia in dealing with Chinese must be: distrust and verify”