Mumbai police have categorically dismissed Essar whistle-blower Albasit Khan’s claim that the tapes he had handed over to Delhi-based lawyer Suren Uppal were given to him by slain Crime Branch official, Vijay Salaskar.
“We have our own system of safe-keeping. Why would Mumbai Crime Branch be handing over any material to an outsider?” Crime Branch chief Sanjay Saxena told ‘Outlook’.
Joint commissioner of police (law and order) Deven Bharti told ‘Outlook’: “Even if you look at the technicality of it, how can Mumbai police tap phone numbers in Delhi? And why would the Union Home secretary give permission to us to tap the PMO? These are baseless allegations. Any tapping done by us is a classified secret. How can we remove this classified material from our office like this?”
“It is easy to blame Vijay Salaskar now that he is no longer around to defend himself.”
On Friday, Albasit Khan, who had gone incommunicado with lawyer Uppal after initially reaching out to him, had suddenly resurfaced to punch holes in “Essar Tapes”.
Khan, the former head of Essar’s security and vigilance, sent an email to the current head, S. Khandwawala, in which he forwarded an email he had purportedly sent Uppal after the “Essar Tapes” became headline news.
That email was forwarded to ‘Outlook’ by an Essar spokesperson.
“On or around January 2016,” Albasit Khan reminded Suren Uppal, “I met with you and sought your advice regarding certain tape recordings which had been given to me for safekeeping by a senior police official of the Mumbai Crime Branch during my association with him, source and authenticity of which is unknown.
That officer, Khan later told ‘Outlook’ was “encounter specialist” Vijay Salaskar, who perished in the 26 November 2008 seige of the Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay, along with his colleagues Hemant Karkare and Ashok Kamte.
“Salaskar gave these tapes to me in good faith for safe keeping. They were given around 2005,” Khan told ‘Outlook’. But he was unable to answer how and why there are tapes available with recordings that go beyond 2005 and upto 2011.
The alleged surveillance was carried out for over a decade by the Essar group on Vajpayee’s PMO, cabinet, bureaucrats and also rival corporates, including Reliance Industries Limited. However, RIL moved out from the BPL network (which had been under Essar’s surveillance) in 2005 and hence phone taps after that year mainly relate to numbers Essar was tapping through its Hutchinson network. Conversations include those related to the 2G scam and Essar’s alleged front company Loop Telecom.
The Vijay Salaskar-was-source claim is not the only hole in Albasit Khan’s email to lawyer Suren Uppal on Friday. He accused Uppal of using the tapes to extort money from the Essar group and completely distanced himself from the allegations and from Uppal.
“After I came to know that you had made demands for huge monies from Essar Group and Reliance Group using my name and exposing me to threat, I stopped all further interaction with you.”
But Khan’s stand on the entire controversy after the ‘Outlook’ expose is completely at variance what he had been telling his former employees.
In taped conversations accessed by ‘Outlook’, Ashish Rajagarhia, secretary to Essar CEO Prashant Ruia, can be heard pleading with an adamant Khan to have a “one on one meeting with the boss at a time and place of his choosing”.
Khan can be heard retorting that he would do so only in the presence of his lawyer and “anyway now all options are closed and there is nothing left to negotiate”.
Khan refers to the unceremonious parting of ways that he claims has been rankling him since. This conversation is of March 10, 2016, a few days after Uppal’s caution notice to the Essar group.