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India Investigates Oil Leaks Secrets to Defence Ministry


According to Reuters report – NEW DELHI, March 3 – India has widened an investigation into leaks of confidential documents from its oil ministry to include the defence ministry, raising fears that other secrets vital to national security may have fallen into the wrong hands.

The scandal has engulfed the oil ministry since the arrest two weeks ago of low-level staff suspected of stealing secret documents and selling them to journalists who styled themselves as high-profile industry consultants.

So far, investigators have focused on how that information was, in turn, used by some of India’s biggest oil companies to pre-empt unfavourable decisions or hurt rivals.

There are also fears that secrets may have fallen into the hands of foreign intelligence agencies, with investigators saying the group’s network extended across the government.

“These men had tentacles spread in multiple government offices and it was easy for them to form a network,” said one police officer involved in the investigation, who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak on the record.

Among the documents recovered are correspondence signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s top aide, proposals for the annual budget and a presentation on the foreign unit of state oil firm ONGC.

Over the weekend, investigators found documents on India’s coal production and power projects. Details of a defence ministry audit are also believed to have been leaked by a casual worker employed by the government’s audit office.

“Yes, it is a threat if the information goes into the wrong hands,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, a defence expert and director of the Society for Policy Studies. “Any information deemed to be restricted can be used by an inimical, hostile entity.”

India will spend $40 billion on defence in the next fiscal year and, in a pivot away from its former reliance on Soviet hardware, has become a key market for U.S., French and Israeli suppliers.

“We were concerned that crucial documents had been leaked, but the defence ministry has always been very strict about its recruitment procedure,” said ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar, adding that the ministry’s own security setup was “foolproof”.

The security aspect of the leaks, not previously reported, could inject fresh urgency into the investigation which has led to more than a dozen arrests.

Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said Modi’s nationalist government was determined to hunt down those responsible.

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