Four (present and former) staff members at Shastri Bhawan, Delhi, were found stealing documents from the petroleum ministry (file photo: The Hindu)
Seven more people were detained on Friday in the corporate espionage scandal that is engulfing the petroleum sector, with several private energy companies being linked to the theft of classified documents from the petroleum ministry. In total, 12 people have been arrested since two government officials, an employee of Reliance Industries, and two "middlemen" were held at the petroleum ministry on Tuesday night.
Reports said the leaked documents pertained to energy pricing and policy, with some containing details of budget proposals on the national gas grid slated for announcement next week.
Delhi police chief BS Bassi told reporters they acted on "a tip-off" that some men were trying "to procure, obtain and steal official documents by trespassing into the offices of the ministry of petroleum and natural gas" in Delhi.
"A trap was laid and three men were arrested from outside the office and official documents recovered from them," Bassi said. The gang had allegedly forged IDs & entry passes to Shastri Bhawan, entered the petroleum ministry after office hours, then disabled CCTVs and used duplicate keys to access papers.
Bassi said confidential documents had been "stolen, photocopied and leaked" from the ministry in return for money and that investigators would soon arrest the "recipients of these papers".
Reports said the police were questioning nearly a dozen employees of at least five private energy companies, including Reliance Industries, Essar Group and Cairn Energy.
According to BBC News, India imports 80% of its oil and 40% of gas for its rising energy needs. Its domestic energy industry - extraction of oil and gas and refining and marketing - is mainly controlled by state-run companies, although a few private companies compete for a growing slice of the market. The government’s policy decisions – and advance knowledge of these – can play a crucial role.
"There is intense lobbying by private companies who would benefit from insider information on government decisions regarding the price at which energy would be sold to consumers," journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta told the BBC.
The government has reportedly already begun plans to arm ministers and top bureaucrats with tablets or e-readers with a secure encrypted app that will ensure paper-less cabinet meetings. This latest corporate espionage scandal will only accelerate that move.