20/02/2015 2:41 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Night Shifts, False Papers, Duplicate Keys: How Sensitive Documents Were Leaked From The Petroleum Ministry

Hemera Technologies via Getty Images
Top secret folder icon on computer screen

New Delhi —

Delhi Police today took the five persons, who they have arrested for allegedly stealing official documents from the Petroleum ministry, to the site of the crime to check the access they had to the building.

The five persons, including two junior employees of oil ministry, were taken to the rooms of senior officials which they had allegedly accessed using duplicate keys, PTI reported.

The rooms that they had allegedly accessed in the middle of the night to steal official documents included rooms of joint secretary (Refineries) and joint secretary (Exploration), besides rooms of some directors.

Cracking down on a suspected case of corporate espionage, police had yesterday arrested two Oil Ministry officials, a Reliance Industries (RIL) staffer and two other middlemen for allegedly leaking classified government documents to energy companies for money.

The Associated Press quoted Police Commissioner Bhim Sain Bassi as saying that three men were arrested on Tuesday after authorities acted on a tip that some individuals were stealing and leaking documents from the ministry. They have been charged with trespassing, forgery and theft.

The men would steal documents and photocopy them and sell these to independent consultants and energy companies, Bassi said. Police said executives from several oil companies were being interrogated and more arrests were likely.

He said the theft and leaking of confidential documents may have been going on for years.

Terming it as a serious case, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said strong action would be taken against the accused employees.

"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 both 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 realized 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.

Modus Operandi: Night shifts, duplicate keys

Accused Ishwar Singh, an employee at the ministry, allegedly arranged continuous night shifts for himself in file rooms, NDTV reported quoting sources. Singh made a bunch of fake access cards and car passes and would make sure that he was always on the late night shift in the file section of the ministry, the report said.

Singh would allegedly read out excerpts from the documents to his contacts on the phone or give them access inside the ministry using fake authentication papers, the NDTV report said.

Journalist Santanu Saikia, who runs a web portal and covered crime stories for several years, was arrested early Friday for his alleged role in providing secret documents of the petroleum ministry to corporate houses. Prayas Jain, an energy consultant, was also arrested Friday.

The Times of India reported the accused denied their involvement in the case in court. They said that they are being implicated. Delhi Police produced the accused before the chief metropolitan magistrate at the Patiala house court.

The bunch of keys found in the possession of the five arrested persons were used to open the rooms of top ministry officials they had allegedly accessed, police sources said.

Sources said the ministry was first alerted of the theft of official documents some months back when some critical documents with the then Joint Secretary (Exploration) Giridhar Armane, were found in a photocopier machine when rooms were opened in the morning. The ministry internally probed the issue. The door of Director Prashant S Lokhande was found compromised about two months back following which the ministry ordered a through investigation and CCTV cameras were installed.

The crime branch caught Asharam, 58, and Ishwar Singh, 56, who were employed as multi tasking staff in the ministry, along with three of their accomplices. Those arrested included Lalta Prasad and Rakesh Kumar, brothers and son of Asharam, who were previously employed as multi tasking staff at Shastri Bhawan.

Talking to reporters, Asharam said, "I am innocent" and his sons were to be blamed for the incident. As crime branch officials whisked him away, he said, "I came to know of this on February 17. I have not done anything. Mera beta zimvewar hai (my son is responsible)."