Imran Ahmed Siddiqui

Former journalist Santanu Saikia
after his arrest on Friday. (AFP)

New Delhi, Feb. 20: Five executives from some of India’s most widely known companies, including the Reliance twins, were arrested tonight in a suspected corporate espionage case amid revelations that among the data stolen were some budget papers.

The scandal appeared to be spreading from the petroleum ministry to other departments, too, with the police telling a court that documents of the coal, power and defence ministries were found in the possession of some the accused.

Among those arrested tonight were Shailesh Saxena of Reliance Industries Ltd, Vinay Kumar of Essar, K.K. Naik of Cairn India, Subhash Chandra of Jubilant Energy and Rishi Anand of Reliance ADAG.

The number of arrested suspects has touched 12, including Santanu Saikia, a former mainstream journalist who runs an energy portal now, and Prayas Jain, an energy consultant.

Saxena is manager, corporate affairs, Reliance Industries, owned by Mukesh Ambani. Vinay Kumar is deputy general manager at Essar, the group run by the Ruias.

Naik is general manager with Cairn India, part-owned by Anil Agarwal of the Vedanta Group. Chandra is a senior executive with Jubiliant Energy, owned by the Bhartias who also operate the Domino’s and Dunkin’ Donuts chains in India. Anand is deputy general manager at Reliance ADAG, owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil Ambani.

“We have found that confidential documents that had been stolen or procured from the petroleum ministry were obtained by independent energy consultants and certain companies working in the field of energy,” a police officer said, declining to identify the firms.

The five executives have been charged under sections 411 (dishonestly receiving stolen property) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).

“A probe is on to find out whether these five persons were acting in collusion with senior executives of their individual companies. Action against their superiors will follow if we find evidence against them,” the officer said.

Delhi crime branch officials are still questioning over 10 people, including employees of some other private companies, at its Chanakyapuri office.

“The arrested persons had stolen a huge number of incriminating documents from the petroleum ministry, which include documents on the national gas grid that was to be used by the (Union) finance minister in his budget speech next week (February 28),” said the FIR registered by the crime branch.

But the gas grid itself is not a new concept. A possible sensitive element could be potential incentives that the budget will offer but it will be unusual for the finance ministry to have already sent the details of such sops to the petroleum ministry, from where the data were allegedly stolen.

Among the other confidential documents listed by the police are photocopies of papers on planning, analysis, exploration, opportunities in Sri Lanka, monthly gas reports and documents signed by Nripendra Misra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister.

Saikia and Jain were taken into custody earlier in the day in connection with suspected theft and sale of documents from the petroleum ministry at Shastri Bhavan. Five people had been arrested yesterday.

“Saikia is now working as an energy consultant. He was detained on Thursday night and was arrested this morning after sustained interrogation,” said Ravindra Yadav, joint commissioner (crime branch). Both have been charged with cheating and criminal conspiracy.

The police, however, did not disclose the specific roles allegedly played by Saikia and Jain. Neither had any of the arrested been charged under the Official Secrets Act till this evening.

Saikia’s wife Sabina Sehgal Saikia was among those killed in the 26/11 attacks on the Taj hotel.

The police claimed that Santanu Saikia acted as a link between some companies that wanted to gain access to confidential documents and those who stole the documents.

The police said a huge cache of documents was found in Saikia’s possession. This in itself is not unusual as several journalists do access documents deemed confidential by the government and file them for reference.

The counsel appearing for Saikia told a court that his client was a journalist and the documents he possessed related to the discharge of his professional responsibilities. The defence counsel contended that the police had to first show how the documents fitted the “classified” label.

“We are analysing whether these documents fall under the Official Secrets Act,” Delhi police commissioner B.S. Bassi said. The Official Secrets Act gives the police sweeping powers to arrest suspects and keep them in custody for any length of time.

An officer said seven to eight companies, whose names had been given to the court in a sealed envelope, were under the scanner.

The companies are said to have paid between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh for some