Modi govt tells top court Rafale deal documents stolen from defence ministry

According to advocate, an FIR has not been registered against theft of documents relating to Rafale deal

News Desk March 06, 2019
According to advocate, an FIR has not been registered against theft of documents relating to Rafale deal. PHOTO: AFP

The Indian government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that documents associated to the Rafale aircraft deal have been stolen from the defence ministry.

The apex court has adjourned the hearing in the case to March 14, according to The Times of India.

Those who had released documents on the Rafale deal in the public domain are guilty under the Official Secrets Act and contempt of court, attorney general KK Venugopal said before a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

An inquiry into the theft is ongoing, the attorney general said on a day the newspaper, The Hindu, published another article on the fighter jet deal.

The bench was hearing petitions seeking a review of its December 14 verdict rejecting all the appeals against the deal purchased by India from France.

Former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had jointly filed a petition,
claimed that the Modi government subdued crucial facts when the apex court chose to drop the batch of PILs against the Rafale deal in December.

When Bhushan pointed to an article written by senior journalist N Ram in The Hindu, Venugopal said the articles were based on stolen documents.

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An FIR has not been registered against the theft of documents relating to Rafale deal, he said.

He also said the first articles by Ram appeared in The Hindu on February 8 and Wednesday's edition which like the other articles published later aimed at influencing the court's proceedings. This amounted to contempt of court, he said.

The newspaper published the documents by omitting the word 'secret' from the top, he said, increasing objections to Bhushan's arguments based on The Hindu's articles and seeking a dismissal of the review petitions.

The bench inquired to know, what is done by the federal government when it alleges that the articles are based on stolen material.

Raising arguments on behalf of Sinha, Shourie and himself, Bhushan said the top court would not have rejected the plea for an FIR and a probe into crucial facts has been suppressed.

Venugopal added the documents relied upon by Bhushan were stolen from the defence ministry and an investigation into the matter was underway.

The chief justice further said hearing Bhushan did not mean the top court was taking on record the documents on the Rafale deal.

Citing to the 'aerial warfare' with Pakistan last week, he said the country needs the Rafale jet to defend itself "from F-16 fighter planes that recently bombed us".

"Without Rafale how can we resist them," he said, adding that two squadrons of Rafale fighter jets are coming in flyaway condition. The first one will be launched in September this year, Venugopal added.

This article originally appeared in The Times of India

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