The arrest last month of a self styled snoop on charges of illegally accessing mobile phone records of BJP leader Arun Jaitley is causing anxiety among New Delhi’s Who’s Who. The reason is that the alleged culprit, Anurag Singh, 37, has over the last decade pulled deals for prominent politicians and businessmen, and worked unofficially with police and intelligence officials in a bunch of cases. That Anurag might spill all the beans during the investigation is what is causing the anxiety.
Jaitley was just one of the people whose call records Anurag tried to access; allegedly, there were around 60 others, including former BJP president Nitin Gadkari, BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal, businessman turned cricket administrator Lalit Modi, and two businessmen from Delhi. This scandal, however, might just be the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and could expose many in Delhi’s political circles, the Delhi Police and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), besides some prominent business tycoons, given the alleged deals made by Anurag over the past decade.
For the BJP, the scandal threatens to reveal the differences within the party — with the police claiming that Mittal, known for his proximity to party president Rajnath Singh, could be one of the conspirators and will be questioned. Mittal has not denied his acquaintance with Anurag and admits having met him a few times over the past four years. “Anurag used to make courtesy calls to me. He came from a good background and I never imagined he could be involved in something like this and hatch a conspiracy against me,” Mittal said in a press conference after Anurag’s arrest.
Anurag was arrested by the Delhi Police Special Cell on 19 February after it came to light that one of his accomplices posed as a policeman to obtain Jaitley’s call records from telecom company Airtel. Three others were also arrested, including a Delhi Police constable and a private detective, Neeraj Nayar. Anurag was allegedly trying to procure the call records of several politicians and businessmen on behalf of Neeraj, charging Rs 1,500 per CDR (call data records) and Rs 200 for the subscriber details. The operation went undetected until Airtel’s nodal officer asked the ACP (Operations), Delhi Police, to confirm a request made through e-mail for obtaining Jaitley’s call records. Apparently, most requests for obtaining cell phone records are made unofficially by various investigating agencies; Anurag and his associates took advantage of this lacuna until they were caught.
So who is Anurag Singh? Anurag’s name came under the spotlight after he was first arrested in January 2006 for allegedly tapping Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh’s phone along with an aide, Dipender Singh. Anurag and Dipender were allegedly assisted by another person who is currently employed with an international corporate risk management company known for corporate espionage and has in its ranks several former FBI officials. Back then, it was startling to know how an MBBS dropout, coming from a well-off family (his father was a Customs officer and his mother still works in the same department), had the wherewithal, the technical know-how and, more importantly, the motive, to illegally tap a prominent politician’s phone. Soon ‘Dr’ Anurag Singh came to be seen as the well-mannered, technically suave face of illegal espionage.
‘V-Detect’, the agency that Anurag ran with an office in New Delhi’s Connaught Place, provided, among others, the following services (according to its website):
• Counter-Surveillance Equipment
• Electromagnetic Interference and Radio Frequency Interference
• Materials Handling Risk and Safety Analysis
The list suggests Anurag had access to high-end surveillance equipment — the kind used by intelligence agencies. Anurag seems to have had a penchant for tapping politicians’ phones, but there’s no clarity on his motives.
Responding to the uproar in the Rajya Sabha over the Jaitley case, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde spelt out the details of how the police cracked it. “During the course of the investigation, the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and logging details of the official e-mail ID of ACP (Operations) were obtained and it was found that it was accessed from an IP address belonging to one Constable Arvind Kumar Dabas (No. 892/ND), posted at Parliament Street Police Station.” The minister also clarified the difference between phone-tapping and obtaining call records. “Telephone tapping refers to looking at the content of the conversation whereas the CDRs pertain to the data regarding the numbers which were called or received.”
But Anurag has a history of phone-tapping as well. Amar Singh has some bitter memories from 2006 when tapes of some of his telephonic conversations were leaked to sections of the media by unknown persons. Though Singh claims the tapes were doctored, it did create a buzz in political circles. For Singh, the Jaitley case is yet another instance of bad karma haunting his political opponents. “I’m not saying Jaitley was in the know when my phone was tapped. But when the doctored tapes were leaked, giving people the wrong idea that I was talking to, among others, movie actress Bipasha Basu, the transcripts were distributed at a dinner hosted by Jaitley. Today, Jaitley is the target. Anurag Singh was a mercenary who made deals with businessmen and politicians to bring others down,” Singh told TEHELKA.
Interestingly, a lot of information in the affidavit filed in 2011 by Singh regarding the phone-tapping case in the Supreme Court was sourced from Anurag Singh alias “Rahul”. Speculation in the power corridors suggests that a Delhi businessman — allegedly close to Anurag and his family as well as some very prominent politicians — facilitated Amar Singh in learning from Anurag that his phone was being tapped “at the behest of 32 political opponents”, including some of India’s most prominent businessmen. But why would Anurag share the information with Singh after targeting him? That is anybody’s guess.
Delhi Police admits that Anurag had helped them carry out surveillance and obtain phone records. He had allegedly helped the Special Cell to crack the cricket match-fixing scandal that involved former South African skipper Hansie Cronje as well as the Parliament attack case of 2001. However, soon after his arrest in 2006 following the Amar Singh phone-tapping scandal, Delhi Police claimed that he was an asset who had gone rogue.
“He was a snoop, not an investigator. He had approached us in 2005 and indeed impressed us with his hacking skills. He had applied to become a member of the Association of Private Detectives and Investigators (APDI), but we never gave him membership. We only recognise ex- servicemen and former security professionals,” says APDI president Kunwar Vikram Singh.
What remains unanswered is why did someone like Anurag, with his alleged links to senior officials in the IB and Delhi Police, go rogue? Some even say that the right question would be whether he went rogue at all. A former IB official believes that Anurag is a wasted national asset. “If someone was cracking cases for you using his skills, when your own intelligence set-up could not do it, you would have recognised him as a national asset. You must know how not to let your asset go rogue.”
Despite TEHELKA’s efforts to get a response, Delhi Police remained tight-lipped on the case. Anurag’s brother, Arun Singh, a lawyer, too refused to comment.