Senior officials from some of India's largest business houses, including Reliance Industries and Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Group, will be summoned for police questioning starting Monday even as nearly 3,500 government documents have been seized by the police in raids on two consultants and the five mid-level executives arrested in the case. Top executives of Cairn India, part of the Vedanta Group, Essar and Jubilant Energy will also been summoned for questioning, said police officers familiar with the probe.
The summons may be followed by detailed questioning which could go on for several days, said the police sources.
Further, several senior bureaucrats — including some currently posted at the oil ministry and others who were there in the recent past — will be quizzed from Monday as to why alarm bells did not go off while files were being allegedly stolen from their offices over several months.
Government sources said two senior ministry bureaucrats had been shifted out a few months ago after suspicion that secret official documents were being leaked out.
The ongoing police probe, at least for now, is focused on the companies that were the alleged recipients of the purloined files.
"We want to know who in the companies had authorised the purchase of government documents and who in the senior management were in the know. Also, how were funds allocated to these mid-level executives by the companies for the said purpose — under what head?" a senior Delhi Police official told ET.
He said the police would "not hesitate" to arrest top executives of the companies if they are found to be culpable.
"The five mid-level arrested executives have said in custody that their companies benefitted from the documents and got an undue advantage by knowing the government's future moves in various court cases and petroleum ministry issues pertaining to subsidies and gas exploration, among others," the official added.
RIL did not react to email queries from ET. A RIL official said the company was "not aware" of any new developments.
In an earlier statement, the company had said: "We have been informed through the media that one personnel has been arrested. We are ascertaining more details through a robust internal inquiry to understand the role of this personnel."
"We have noted with concern that one of our employees has been arrested by the authorities. Essar is a law-abiding corporate following a zero-tolerance policy towards acts which are against the law of the land. The company reiterates that neither it has directly nor has it authorised anybody to conduct any acts not in compliance with law," a statement by Essar said.
A police team is currently sifting through the 3,500-odd documents said to have been seized from the offices of the two arrested consultants, Santanu Saikia and Prayas Jain, as well as the offices of the arrested executives.
The Delhi Police FIR had only mentioned nine documents seized from five middlemen during a trap on Wednesday night, including a document pertaining to inputs from the petroleum ministry for the upcoming Budget.
The number of documents, which are from nearly half-a-dozen ministries, seized in further raids has risen to nearly 3,500, said police sources.
They also said a team could be sent to Mumbai for "further investigations" since the head offices of most of the corporates under the scanner are located there. "It depends on the level of cooperation extended in questioning by the senior executives summoned Monday onwards," an investigator said.
Police officials have identified two routes through which government documents made it to their corporate recipients, sources said.
The two main middlemen and ex-government employees, Rakesh and Lalta Prasad (who are brothers), "were in touch both" with Saikia and Jain as well as the five arrested mid-level executives of the corporates for selling documents.
Rakesh and Lalta received monthly salaries of around Rs 50,000 from the two consultants, police sources said.
The brothers, however, were also in touch directly with corporate executives who in the past have paid them almost.'1 lakh each for a document, police sources said.
"The brothers had little clue of the importance of documents they stole. Once they got into the office rooms of petroleum ministry officials at night, they read out the subject of the document on phone to Saikia or Jain or directly to the executives and got it photocopied if the latter desired the document. This racket has been in full flow since 2012," a senior investigator told ET. The company executives paid a much higher amount to Saikia and Jain for documents sourced from them, police sources alleged.
The money trail between the corporates, the consultants and the arrested brothers is now the crux of the investigation, police sources said.
The seized documents are meanwhile being examined by the police along with petroleum ministry officials to ascertain the nature of their secrecy. "We will put the Official Secrets Act in the matter very soon," a senior police official said.
Former cabinet secretary Naresh Chandra told ET that the police will have to prove substantial payments were made by the corporates to get hold of government documents to prove that a criminal conspiracy existed.
"It is a complex matter. One cannot establish criminal guilt on assumptions. Police would do well to be full and fair and go up in the chain," Chandra said.
He also stressed that the episode showed the government should not term every matter as 'secret' and instead allow officials to make certain documents public so as to reduce the incentive to obtain papers illegally by paying bribes.
"In an era of Right to Information, the bureaucrats should be given the discretion to not label every document as 'classified'. Companies also want to know where their file has got stuck and over-secrecy is also a problem," Chandra told ET.