#RafaleHearing: 'Secret' Rafale deal files stolen, Center tells SC
The government told the Supreme Court that "secret" Rafale deal-related documents were stolen from the Defense Ministry and petitioners filing review pleas in the matter are relying on classified documents, violating the Official Secrets Act. The court today began hearing petitions seeking review of its 14 December verdict on Rafale deal in which it gave a clean chit to the Modi government. Here's more.
"These documents were stolen from the Defense Ministry either by former or present employees. These are secret documents and can't be in the public domain," Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Center, told the top court.
The Attorney General told the SC that the documents cited by the petitioners were stolen, adding that showing them in court affects national security. Two review petitions have been filed in the Rafale deal matter. One of the review pleas was filed by former Union ministers, Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, and advocate Prashant Bhushan and AAP MP Sanjay Singh filed the other.
The Attorney General accused The Hindu newspaper of stealing classified documents from the Defense Ministry; the newspaper had published a report on the Rafale deal citing the allegedly stolen confidential documents. While the government claimed that the documents being referred to are stolen, the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, meanwhile, questioned the government what action it had taken after the documents were stolen.
"We are investigating how these documents were stolen," the government told SC. "It is a criminal offense. We are objecting preliminary because secret documents can't be annexed with the petition. Review and perjury petitions must be dismissed," said the Attorney General. CJI Gogoi, however, asked Venugopal to seek instructions and inform about the steps taken by the government in the matter by 2:00pm today.
The government said, "Having these documents is an offense... The government is planning to launch a prosecution." "Documents were published by the newspaper by omitting the word 'Secret' at the top. This is in violation of the Official Secrets Act," AG Venugopal said. "Relevancy of the papers can't be the sole consideration. They must say whether retired or present officers did it," he said.
The government asserted the Rafale deal "falls outside judicial purview," reiterating, "...Petitioners are relying on stolen evidence. Government cannot come to court every time we have to declare." To this, however, Justice KM Joseph replied, "The issue here is that the law of the country has been broken by corrupted practices. Even stolen evidence can be looked into, provided it is relevant and authentic."
Slamming the government's statement, Justice Joseph said, "There were allegations of corruption in Bofors. Now will you say the same thing that a criminal court shouldn't look into any such document?" "We are here to enunciate the law. Now where do we get an authority which says if a document comes from an unknown or unlawful source, documents cannot be looked into?" he added.
Justice SK Kaul also came down heavily on the government, saying, "If the documents were stolen, the government should put its own house in order." "It is one thing to say that we should look at these documents with suspicion. But to say we can't even look at those documents may not be a correct submission in law," he said.