India arrests six over corporate spying on petroleum ministry

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian police have arrested six people including a senior journalist on charges of stealing top-secret documents from India's petroleum ministry and selling them on to energy companies, police said Friday.

The arrests follow a major police sting operation to trap those responsible for taking the secret government documents, which police said were sold to private energy companies and consultancies.

The men, who also include two government employees, are alleged to have used duplicate keys and forged identity cards to gain access to the ministry at night and photocopy documents related to high-value bids and pricing policies.

"On the basis of preliminary investigations, we can say these documents had been obtained by independent energy consultants... and certain companies working in the field of energy," Delhi police chief Bhim Sain Bassi told reporters.

Police did not name the companies involved, but Reliance Industries, one of India's biggest business conglomerates, said one of its officials had been detained in connection with the case.

"The matter is under investigation... and we are determined to cooperate in every possible manner," a Reliance official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Reliance, controlled by the country's wealthiest man Mukesh Ambani, derives most of its earnings from its massive energy operations.

The journalist, who ran an oil industry portal, was arrested late Thursday after a lengthy interrogation, a police source told AFP, without giving further details.

Corporate espionage is a major problem in India. A report from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry listed it as the ninth biggest threat to local companies in its 2014 survey.

The report also said that despite the presence of CCTV and tracking software, only 15-20 per cent of corporate espionage cases are detected.

Another industry report in 2012 said more than one in three companies were involved in "some form of espionage to gain an advantage over their competitors".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.