Corporate espionage: more arrests likely as net widens

With the arrest of another energy consultant late on Monday, the Delhi Police have brought the coal and power ministries also under the ambit of an investigation that began with the alleged leak of official documents from the petroleum ministry, uncovered last week.

Police said seven employees of the coal and power ministries have been detained for questioning and more arrests are likely.

Lokesh Sharma, an employee of Infraline, an energy consultancy based in Noida, was arrested from Delhi's Dwarka area. Police said two forged identity cards of the coal and power ministries and ''official'' documents were recovered from him.

During questioning, Sharma said that his company publishes a magazine, Infraline Plus, which is widely circulated in the ministries, and he would procure documents for its content.

Following his arrest, a second FIR was lodged under Sections of the Indian Penal Code for trespass, forgery and criminal conspiracy.

Police said Sharma's ''module'' operated independently of the one in which 12 people were arrested last week, including five executives from leading energy firms Reliance Industries, Jubilant Energy, Reliance ADAG, Essar and Cairn India.

Sharma was produced in a court on Monday. The police said the documents recovered from him were ''sensitive in nature'' and related to ''policy matters of the ministry''.

Reports said Sharma's father used to work as a driver in the petroleum ministry and was aware of the loopholes in the system.

Seeking police remand, the investigating officer told a magisterial court, ''The accused had a modus operandi in securing sensitive documents from the coal and power ministries. It also looks like even before policies were formulated related to the ministries, related documents were leaked. The accused is required to be confronted with these documents and his custodial interrogation is required.

''This case is not related to the case of petroleum ministry. But fake ID cards have also been used in this case too,'' police told the court.

Sharma allegedly worked at the behest of his senior officials. These senior officials are likely to be questioned after the police analyse the nature of the documents leaked.

Arguing against police custody, defence counsel and senior advocate Jai Singh Yadav said, ''The order of FIR has not been supplied to me. How should the defence argue? I should know why my client has been detained. I should be informed what are these sensitive documents that they are speaking about that requires police custody.''

The Delhi Police replied, ''The documents recovered are sensitive in nature. We have also sent these to the ministries, after which we will see if these attract charges under the Official Secrets Act.''

Granting police custody for five days, chief metropolitan magistrate Satish Kumar Arora asked the police to allow the defence counsel a legal interview on the first and last day of police custody.

According to the police, Sharma's name cropped up while questioning Santanu Saikia of Indian Petro Group and Prayas Jain of Metis India - both were arrested last week. Sharma reportedly had good links with the staff at the coal, power and petroleum ministries, who allegedly leaked confidential documents to him.