New Delhi: A court in New Delhi on Friday ruled that four men—two former petroleum ministry employees, a former journalist and an industry consultant—would be interrogated in police custody over the next four days in connection with a case of suspected corporate espionage.
The three other men will be held for two weeks. Five others were arrested late on Friday.
The 12 people were arrested on suspicion of running a scam to steal documents from the oil ministry to sell to energy consultants and private companies.
Police told the court they had recovered stolen ministry documents from some of the accused and all were involved in supplying them to corporate clients.
An input on the National Gas Grid for the finance minister’s budget speech was among the various “secret” documents Delhi police recovered from the suspects in the case. Besides, the police also recovered a letter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal secretary Nripendra Misra, according to the first information report in the case.
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), the market regulator, warned that it will take stern action if such stolen information was being used in the markets.
“If there is an iota of truth in that, my people would already be on working on that,” Sebi chairman U.K. Sinha said.
India’s teeming ministries—which typically conduct business from handheld files and binders tied with string instead of computers—have faced accusations that documents have been copied and leaked ahead of major sales or tenders, or policies affecting companies.
Modi’s administration installed closed-circuit cameras late last year to stop people sneaking out of the oil ministry with documents. The arrests were the first since the cameras were installed.
Police said late on Thursday that they received information that people were trespassing in ministry offices at night, using false identity cards, temporary passes and duplicate keys for offices.
“Investigations further revealed that the stolen documents were being sold to some individual of private energy consultancy companies,” as well as in the petrochemical or energy industry, police said in a statement.
An official at Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), one of India’s largest conglomerates, said on Thursday it had learned one of its officials had been detained in connection with the case. The official said the company was unaware of any other details and it was conducting an investigation. “We are determined to cooperate in every possible manner,” the RIL official said.
Shares in RIL on Friday closed down 3.12% at Rs.873.25 while the Sensex ended the day at 29,231.41%—down 0.78%.