Monday, 24 October 2011

Naval War Room Leak Scandal

In July 2005, Outlook magazine reported that some classified documents were leaked on a USB pen drive from the Directorate of Naval operations in New Delhi (also called the Navy war room). However, they were intercepted by air force intelligence from the house of wing commander S L Surve. The military documents, which dealt with Indian defense purchases, were supposed to be passed on to Thales and other international arms sellers via Shankaran.

After the leak was exposed, the Navy conducted its in-house investigation, and in December 2005, it sacked three commanders in the Indian navy, Vijendra Rana, Vinod Kumar Jha and Captain Kashyap Kumar, without any investigative or court trial. Officially, the reason given for their dismissal under the rarely-used "President's `Pleasure" clause, was because they had leaked classified information after accepting gratification, and this may affect the "security of the State", but the lack of criminal charges against the three has been very surprising. In fact, the Indian navy did not pass on the case to the nodal investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigations until nearly a year had passed after the initial break on the scandal, while others hinted that the investigation may have been deliberately delayed, possibly to protect Shankaran.

Ravi Shankaran and other accomplices named in the media expose were allowed to leave the country. After the media clamored about the Indian navy investigations on the War Room Leak Scandal, investigations were handed over to the CBI. Raids were conducted in 20 offices and residences nationwide, Shankaran's friend and business partner, retired Commander Kulbhushan Parashar was arrested in April 2006 at the Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi. The large number of documents uncovered by the CBI resulted in many more arrests such as arms dealer and billionaire Abhishek Verma and Wing Commander S.L. Surve. Also arrested was Rajrani Jaiswal from Pune, who was apparently used by Kulbushan Parashar as a "honey trap". Surve, who was posted as joint director (air defence) in the Air HQ, was so besotted with Rajrani that Surve's wife complained to the Indian Air Force (IAF) about them. Eventually Surve was fired, and both he and Verma are presently in jail.

However, Shankaran had left the country in November 2005 - well after the media publications, but during the Indian Navy's internal investigations. The CBI found that he had been staying with relatives in London. An Interpol Red corner notice was issued against him in 2006. His passport was revoked and his property was attached in September 2006. He was also spotted in London and an UK court issued an arrest warrant, but he evaded the police and apparently went to Sweden.

In Dec 2007, Arun Prakash responded to the media in a public statement quoting a CBI document:

The investigation so far, leading to the filing of two charge sheets has not revealed any incriminating act on the part of Admiral Arun Prakash with regard to this conspiracy.

It appears that Shankaran and Parashar, both of whom had taken early retirement from the navy, had convinced their friends commander Vijendra Rana, commander Vinod Kumar Jha, and the then director of naval operations Captain Kashyap Kumar to enable the copying of classified information from the Navy War room in the South Block. Eight pen drives were used to carry the information to their contacts in international armament companies interested in selling to India. Only two of the eight pen drives could be recovered.

Subsequently, the War room leak was linked to the Scorpene Submarine scam, in which 500 crores (about USD 100mn) were paid as bribes to parties in India.

In April 2010, four years after the Interpol Red corner notice had been issued against him, Ravi Shankaran was arrested in London. Reports indicate that he was being extradited via proceedings in the court of District Magistrate, Westminister's Court, London. However, in over a year, he is yet to be extradited as of June 2011. Meanwhile, he is on bail in London.

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