Bhima Koregaon: Forensic report says key evidence against jailed activist was planted

Varavara Rao’s family has said that the report proves that the case was false and all the activists had been targeted by the ruling dispensation.
File image of Rona Wilson, accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, giving a speech at an event
File image of Rona Wilson, accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, giving a speech at an event

The evidence on the basis of which several activists and authors were arrested in the Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad case may have been planted by hackers in the computer of Rona Wilson, a report by Washington Post has said. Rona Wilson was the first person arrested by the Pune police in 2018 on the basis of a letter that allegedly spoke of a plot against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The report says that at least 10 letters, which have been mentioned in the Pune police chargesheet to frame charges against Rona Wilson, were planted in this manner.

The report prepared by Arsenal Consulting, a digital forensics consulting company based out of Massachusetts, has concluded that activist Rona Wilson’s computer was compromised for 22 months. The report says that ‘this is one of the most serious cases involving evidence tampering that Arsenal has ever encountered’. 

How did the tampering happen?

Arsenal was engaged by the defence team of Rona Wilson to analyse electronic evidence seized by the Pune police from the activist’s house on April 17, 2018. The analysis is based on a forensic image obtained from a hard drive within Wilson’s notebook computer. The report says that Wilson’s computer was first compromised on June 13, 2016, after a series of suspicious emails were sent from someone using Hyderabad based activist Varavara Rao’s account. The person using Varavara Rao’s account made several attempts to make Wilson open an attachment. When Wilson finally did it in the evening, a Netware Remote Access Trojan was installed in Wilson’s computer. This is malware that can give hackers administrative access to the device.

Arsenal notes that they can give a complete report only if they study Varavara Rao’s computer to analyse how it was compromised.

According to the chargesheet in the case, Wilson had authored incriminating documents in 2017 using Microsoft Word 2010 or 2013. However, Arsenal says that the last download of Microsoft Word on his computer was in 2007 and no new versions were found. It goes on to say that ten documents that the police claimed were in a hidden folder on Wilson’s computer, had nothing to do with Wilson, and he had never opened them.

The report also says that the hacker modified the format of the files according to the type of computer software Wilson was using, so that they would not be found easily by Wilson.

This is not the first report that indicates that Rona Wilson’s laptop was compromised. In March 2020, The Caravan had reported that it had conducted a cyber-forensic examination on Rona’s laptop, and found that the disk contained malware that can be used to remotely access the computer and plant files. The Caravan added that the examination also revealed several other discrepancies, “pointing towards manipulation of evidence in the case.”

Meanwhile, Varavara Rao’s family has said that the report proves that the case was false and all the activists had been targeted by the ruling dispensation. 

“For the last three years, we have been saying that this is a cooked-up case. We know that the case will not stand the scrutiny of the courts. And now we are vindicated. It seems that the malware entered Varavara Rao’s computer through an email and was used against others in his contact list. Whoever targeted knew that Rao is not technologically well-versed. So, it was easy for those in intelligence services to hack his computer,” N Venugopal, Varavara Rao’s nephew, told TNM.

Venugopal said that their lawyers will use the report when the case comes up for trial. “Tragically, the case has not come up for a trial in the past three years. Our contention that there was no case at all, and the intention was to simply imprison them for several years, has been proven,” he added.

Rona Wilson moves Bombay HC

Based on the findings by Arsenal, Rona Wilson has now moved the Bombay High Court seeking a probe into the alleged cyber attack on his computer. In his plea, he has sought that a Special Investigation Team be formed to probe the fabrication of documents, reports Live Law.

With inputs from Balakrishna Ganeshan

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