Indian police said on Monday that they had widened the ongoing investigation into the alleged theft of sensitive government information by energy companies and arrested yet another person. This brings the total number of confirmed arrests to 13.
B S Bassi, the chief of police in the Indian capital of New Delhi, said that after Thursday’s and Friday’s arrests, Lokesh, an energy consultant, was arrested on Monday for leaking sensitive documents from Indian government's coal and power ministries.
The spate of arrests began Thursday, when Delhi police caught five people -- including two junior government officials and one former journalist -- stealing documents from the federal oil ministry. Later, seven more people, including senior executives of India’s top energy companies, were caught. These include senior officials from Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), Reliance ADA Group, the Essar Group, and Cairn India, the Times of India had reported.
Bassi said that although Monday’s arrest was part of the same investigation, it did not have a direct link to the earlier arrests. “Since there were no direct linkages, we had to register a fresh case,” he said.
The Delhi police reportedly said that among other important documents, papers containing information about a crucial arbitration between RIL and the government related to its gas fields off India’s east coast were leaked. Other documents possibly relate to the upcoming federal budget, which is due by the end of February, and the pricing of natural gas and internal government papers that might have significant commercial value.
While RIL is controlled by Indian industrialist Mukesh Ambani, the Reliance ADA Group is controlled by his estranged younger brother Anil Ambani. The Ambani brothers belong to one of India’s wealthiest business families. They split their family-controlled Reliance Group in 2006, four years after their father and the group’s founder, Dhirubhai Ambani, died.
“No, we cannot comment till we know the details,” an RIL spokesperson had said in a text message in response to a query by International Business Times.
Petroleum and natural gas constitute about 29 percent of the total energy consumption in India. RIL, which operates the world's largest oil refinery in Jamnagar, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, is also a significant player in the gas exploration sector in the country.
In the recent past, the company has found itself at the center of a major controversy concerning the pricing of natural gas that is pumped out from offshore and onshore fields in India. The oil and gas industry is of strategic importance to India as the country imports a bulk of its energy needs, and it is the fourth-largest energy consumer in the world after China, the U.S. and Russia.
In a statement posted Monday on its website, Reliance Power Ltd, which is a part of the Reliance ADA Group, said that its offices had not been raided by police. "The work station of only one specific Reliance Power employee was searched, and no incriminating material of any kind was found. We are not aware of the circumstances leading to the arrest of that employee, and Reliance Power is fully cooperating with the authorities. We are committed to propriety in all our business dealings, and do not support unlawful activities of any nature,” the company said, in the statement.
The latest allegations renew concerns of a nexus between government officials, large corporations and the media in India. In November 2010,recorded telephone conversations between a lobbyist and influential businessmen, politicians and journalists became public, and generated fierce public debate in the country. Although U.S.-style lobbying is not permitted in India, unofficially, lobbyists have been operating for decades now. But, the nature of lobbying has evolved since India began liberalizing its economy in 1991, giving rise to allegations of crony capitalism.