A Delhi court has allowed criminal prosecution of the Reliance Industries Ltd and its three senior officials for illegally possessing secret documents pertaining to cabinet meetings on economic matters.
The order was passed,14 years after the FIR was lodged in 1998 when the RIL Group was not split between between Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani.
Additional Sessions Judge Narinder Kumar said a prima facie case was made out against RIL,its then Group President V Balasubramanian,Vice President A N Sethuraman,and General Manager (corporate affairs) Shankar Adawal under the Official Secrets Act.
“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 (Reliance Industries Limited),” the judge said.
“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,” he ordered.
However,the court did not find evidence against Ambani brothers,who were also not named as accused in the case. The case relates to recovery of four secret documents pertaining to government policies on subjects of interest to Reliance Industries Ltd from the company’s office here.
Paving the way for framing of charges against the company and its officials,the Judge said,”This court finds that Reliance Industries Ltd 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”.
In a relief to Ambani brothers,the judge said there was no material to suggest that the documents received by the accused officials reached them.
“Prosecution appears to have not made any effort to investigate as to whether this document,on being faxed by R Rajenderan (documentation officer,RIL) actually reached the two managing directors.
“There is also no evidence as to what was written,said or done by these two managing directors,in case the document actually reached them,so as to contribute them requisite voluntariness,knowledge and connivance,” the court noted.
On October 28,1998 search of the office premises of Balasubramanian here led to recovery of photocopies of four secret documents (37 pages).
The first document (D-7) dated September 14,1998 along with annexure related to the cabinet meeting on “Core Group on Economic Maters – Challenge of Economic Sanctions against India (5 th meeting). Document no. 2 (D-8) was also dated September 14,1998.
Document no 3 (D-9) was on subject “minutes of the 37 th 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 not a secret document, was a letter dated September 21,1998 from T S 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 Limited 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 court said.
The court noted that Document no. 2 (D-8) concerning various ministries and departments was found to have been endorsed to ADA (Anil Dhirubhai Ambani) in the handwriting of Adawal.
It noted that the printed note dated September 30,1998 available on the front page of the document,it appears that Anil Ambani communicated the document to Mukesh Ambani,Balasubramanian,Sethuraman and one other person referred to as MM.
“From the hand written note appended to front page of D8,it appears that Adawal actually sent D7,complete in all respect to Anil Dhirubhai Ambani and at the same time informed that he would give it to Sethuraman.
“It also appears that on receipt of entire document D7,Anil Ambani,the Managing Director,sent relevant portion thereof to concerned four officers of the company. That is how,Balasubramanian has also been found in possession only the part of the document which pertained to him.”
“Anil Dhirubhai Ambani is not one of the accused before this Court,” the judge noted.
With respect to document no. 3 and 4 (D 9 and 10),the court noted that the handwritten slips attached to them show that they were faxed to Mukesh and Anil Ambani.
It,however,said that there is no material to suggest that this document reached Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani on having been faxed by Rajenderan (documentation officer,RIL).
“Prosecution appears to have not made any effort to investigate as to whether this document,on being faxed,actually reached the two Managing Directors,” the court said.