Custodial interrogation of 4 required in ISRO case, says CBI


Kochi: The CBI on Friday opposed the anticipatory bail pleas made in the Kerala High Court by three former police officers of Kerala and a retired official of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in connection with the ISRO conspiracy case.

The investigating agency said foreign intelligence agencies like ISI, Pakistan, had plotted to derail the development of cryogenic technology in India and the accused needed to be interrogated to find out the brain behind the operation.

The submission was made before Justice Ashok Menon by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S V Raju, appearing for the CBI, who told the court that the case was a serious one that would affect national security.

It was also submitted that the accused -- police officers S Vijayan, Thampi S Durga Dutta and R B Sreekumar and retired IB official P S Jayaprakash -- should not be granted any relief since the investigation was still at a nascent stage.

The ASG said if anticipatory bail was granted, the accused would not disclose anything and crucial evidence would be lost.

"We won't be able to find out who were the brains behind the conspiracy," he added.

The accused refuted the claim by the CBI and contended that it was coming with a new story of the involvement of the ISI when the central agency did not find anything in its probe in 1994-95.

They said the CBI was making allegations without any material to support the charges and that custodial interrogation would not serve any purpose.

After hearing the arguments, the court listed the matter for August 11 and extended the interim protection from arrest that was granted to the four till then.

But, the court said, this relief to the four would not preclude them from cooperating with the CBI probe into the case it registered under the Indian Penal Code against 18 accused, including the four, for various offences such as criminal conspiracy, kidnapping and fabrication of evidence.

The CBI registered the case against the 18 in connection with the arrest and detention of former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan in the 1994 espionage case.

During the more-than-two-hour long hearing today, the lawyers for the accused denied any custodial torture or harassment of Narayanan and the two Maldivian women -- Mariyam Rasheeda and Fouziyya Hassan -- who were also arrested and detained in the 1994 case.

The lawyers contended that the report of the Supreme Court-appointed committee, headed by Justice (retired) D K Jain, cannot be the sole basis for the CBI probe.

They said even the apex court had recently said the CBI cannot solely rely on the report of the committee as it has to collect evidence on its own to substantiate the conspiracy angle to the case.

The accused further contended that they performed their duties in accordance with the law and as per the instructions of their superiors, they should not be held at fault.

To this, the CBI said the apex court had held that Narayanan suffered mental torture, harassment and humiliation as a result of the allegations of spying and had awarded him Rs 50 lakh as compensation.

Counsel for Narayanan opposed the anticipatory bail pleas of the four accused while the High Court said it would hear on the next date the arguments of advocate Prasad Gandhi on behalf of the two Maldivian women.

The Supreme Court had, on April 15, ordered that the report of the committee on the role of erring police officials in the espionage case relating to Narayanan be given to the CBI and directed it to conduct further investigations into the issue.

The espionage case pertained to allegations of transfer of certain confidential documents on the space programme of India to foreign countries by two scientists and four others, including the two Maldivians.

The CBI, in its probe at that time, had held that top police officials in Kerala were responsible for Narayanan's arrest which the agency said was illegal.

The case had a political fallout too, with a section in the Congress Party targeting the then Chief Minister K Karunakaran, who is now dead, over the issue that eventually led to his resignation.

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