Trial Court frames charges on three RIL officials, after 14 years
Moneylife Digital Team 03 April 2012

In a case relating to recovery of four secret government documents from RIL’s office, the trial court has finally framed charges against V Balasubramanian, AN Sethuraman and Shankar Adawal after the high court and Supreme Court rejected petitions filed by the accused

A trial court in New Delhi has framed charges against Reliance Industries (RIL) and three of its officials, 14 years after the first information report were filed. The officials include RIL's the then group president V Balasubramanian, vice-president AN Sethuraman, and general manager (corporate affairs) Shankar Adawal. In a relief to Mukesh and Anil Ambani (who were the then managing directors of RIL), the judge said there was no material to suggest that the documents received by the accused officials reached them.

Additional sessions judge Narinder Kumar said, "Prima facie case for an offence under Section 5(2) punishable under Section 5(4) (wrongful communication) read with Section 15 of Official Secrets Act is made out against Company accused No 4 (RIL). Prima facie there is material on record to infer agreement and criminal conspiracy between Balasubramanian, Sethuraman and Adawal from the manner in which the information has been received and communicated.

"Since prima facie case is made out against them, they have to face trial for an offence punishable under Section 120 B IPC (criminal conspiracy) read with Section 5(2) punishable under Section 5(4) of Official Secrets Act," the judge ordered.

Paving the way for framing of charges against the company and its officials, the judge said, "This court finds that Reliance Industries has business interest in the field of energy, telecom, petrochemicals, textiles, etc and the above document containing particular information pertain to areas crucial to the interest of this company".
Earlier in May 2011, the Supreme Court dismissed the petitions of the three officials saying that these petitions did contain any merits.

RIL and its three officials are facing a criminal case under the Official Secrets Act over the alleged recovery of some secret documents during search of the office premises of Mr Balasubramanian, the then group president of Reliance Industries, in 1998. A criminal case was filed in 1998 by the Delhi Police against the company and its three officials for the recovery of the photostat copies of four classified documents, but later considering the sensitivity of the case, the investigation was handed over to the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) which registered a complaint in 2002.

According to a CBI spokesman, the secret documents were recovered from a "locked office table drawer" of the group's office located in a five-star hotel in New Delhi. "The initial searches were conducted by the Delhi Police at the Reliance offices in Hotel Le Meridien in New Delhi on 28 October 1998 during which certain important documents were seized. On the basis of those documents a case under the Official Secrets Act was registered against the three accused. The case was then handed over to the CBI which conducted raids on 13 November 1998 at six places in Delhi and Mumbai, searched the offices and residential premises of the accused and recovered some more documents," the spokesman had told media persons in 2002.

On 28 October 1998 a search of the office premises of Mr Balasubramanian led to the recovery of photocopies of four secret documents (37 pages). The first document (D-7) dated 14 September 1998 along with annexure related to the cabinet meeting on "Core Group on Economic Matters - Challenge of Economic Sanctions against India (5th meeting)". Document no. 2 (D-8) was also dated 14 September 1998. Document no 3 (D-9) was on the subject "minutes of the 37th meeting of the core group of secretaries on disinvestment" relating to meeting convened by cabinet secretary along with annexure relating to disinvestments in public sector undertakings.

Document no 4 (D-10), which was not a secret document,  was a letter dated 21 September 1998 from TS Vijayaraghavan, secretary, ministry of petroleum and natural gas addressed to Javed A Chaudhary, secretary (revenue), ministry of finance. The document pertained to "proposals in respect of rationalization of customs and excise tariff rates for the hydrocarbon sector."

"Prima facie it can be said that Reliance Industries had vested interest in having the information contained in the three documents (D-7, 8 and 9) so as to know as to what was going on at the level of the government on the subjects to which they pertain, and to take appropriate steps for the benefits of the company which is an association of persons and having a juristic personality in the eye of law," the trial court judge said.

Earlier when the matter was before the trial court and the high court, RIL had contended that the CBI failed to register the complaint within the time-frame of three years and as such the trial should not have been proceeded with. However, the high court refused to accept the contention that 142 days' delay in registering the complaint could be a ground to quash the proceedings before the trial court.

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