Essar Group embroiled in major phone-tapping: report

17 Jun 2016


The Essar Group finds itself in a major controversy, being accused of a nexus with politicians, bureaucrats and journalists.

A complaint to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by a Delhi-based lawyer alleges that the group, between 2001 and 2006, tapped several phones of VVIPs, including current cabinet ministers, corporate leaders and many bureaucrats and Prime Minister's Office staff in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, The Indian Express reported today.

The development comes at a time when a case has been filed by the non-profit Centre for Public Interest Litigation seeking a probe into Essar's nexus being used for business gains.

Among the list of names of those whose phones have allegedly been tapped are industrialists Mukesh and Anil Ambani, former ministers Praful Patel and Ram Naik, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, and Power Piyush Goyal, among others.

Suren Uppal, a Supreme Court lawyer, claims to represent Albasit Khan, former head of security at Essar, who allegedly supervised the activity. Handwritten diaries, time logs helped keep a track of these alleged intercepts.

According to Uppal's complaint, Essar's Prashant and Ravikant Ruia had told Khan about his role. The complaint says that the Ruias, Essar's promoters, told Khan that ''since their company was already a telecom licensee for cellular operations under M/s Hutchinson Essar, the company is required under its statutory obligations to support the government investigations by intercepting and tapping such phones which are under government surveillance and thus assigned the responsibility of recording and providing the recording conversations to the management of the company…''

Other names that have come up in conversations include Kirit Somaiya, Jaswant Singh, Subrata Roy, Amitabh Bachchan, PMO officials Brajesh Mishra and N K Singh

According to an Outlook report, tapping was carried out from the ground floor and basement of Essar House in Mumbai and from the company's guesthouse in New Delhi. Khan was allegedly given dozens of cellphones, recorders, cassettes etc as infrastructure to conduct this operation.

Officials who have been named in the complaint reportedly used to create special mobile SIM cards or interceptor SIM cards to tap the conversations.

Uppal sent a caution notice, dated 2 March 2016, to Essar chairman Shashikant Ruia, Prashant Ruia, Ravikant Ruia and Anshuman Ruia. The notice adds that Khan had handed over hundreds of audio cassettes having many intercepted conversations.

 ''I want the Government to investigate these illegalities even if Albasit Khan is no longer with me. Eventually, I want the apex court to set up a probe team for the case,'' Uppal told The Indian Express.

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