More than two decades after the controversial ISRO espionage case hit headlines and caused the fall of the K Karunakaran government, it has returned to the spotlight, thanks to a tell-all book penned by the former IPS officer at the centre of it all.
Former Director General of Police Siby Mathews, who investigated the case involving allegations that ISRO scientists had passed on classified secrets to two Maldivian intelligence agents, will release his memoirs Nirbhayam on June 10 in Thiruvananthapuram.
While Mathews has explored many high-profile cases that he has been a part of, including the Kalluvathukkal hooch tragedy and the Suryanelli gang rape case, it is the promise of new details coming to light in the ISRO espionage case that has caught attention.
Speaking to TNM, Mathews said that a widespread view existed that he had victimised former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan, as the charges were dropped by the CBI citing insufficient evidence. The CBI also recommended action against Mathews and two other officers – S Vijayan and KK Joshwa – for ‘unprofessional conduct’. However, the previous Oommen Chandy-led government declined to take action.
Mathews is currently engaged in a legal battle with Narayanan, who moved the Supreme Court in 2015 seeking disciplinary action against Mathews and other police officials of the Special Investigation Team that probed the case.
However, claims Mathews, it is he who has been victimised and has been fighting a lone battle to clear his name.
“Narayanan has been fighting the legal battle against me for so many years and there is a common feeling that he is the victim in the ISRO case. But it is me who has been victimised in the case. I have been fighting it with my own money. No government has supported me in that, though the previous UDF government took the decision not to take action against the investigating officers,” Mathews said.
Already, two awards of compensation have been made to Narayanan in regard to the case. In 1998, the Supreme Court had directed the state government to pay compensation of Rs one lakh to Narayanan and the others discharged in the case. Later, the National Human Rights Commission also awarded Narayanan an interim compensation of Rs ten lakh for the “mental and agony and torture he had undergone”.
However, Mathews insists that the CBI closing the case against Narayanan is not proof that the former scientist was innocent. “How can one say that? The CBI closed the case, but does that mean that Narayanan was innocent? The valid proof is the application he gave to the Chairman of ISRO seeking voluntary retirement. Mariam Rasheeda, the Maldives native who was the first to be arrested in the case, was held on October 20, 1994. On November 1, Narayanan applied for voluntary retirement. Isn’t it fishy?” Mathews asks.
Siby Mathews himself opted for voluntary retirement in 2011, one year shy of retirement age. The DGP of Fire and Rescue Services, at the time, Mathews was then appointed as the Chief Information Commissioner. He retired from this post in 2016, after a five-year term.
Mathews also says that while the entire media glare fell on him, there were also other officials involved in the case whose role has been ignored. In particular, he points to ADGP Rishi Raj Singh, at present the Excise Commissioner of the state.
Rishi Raj Singh was the Deputy Commissioner of Thiruvananthapuram when the scandal surfaced in 1994. “He wrote to the Intelligence Bureau with the details collected by S Vijayan who was the Sub Inspector of Special Branch at that time. Have you ever heard him mentioning the case anywhere?” Mathews asks. The silence of these officers has never been questioned, but his reputation has been tarnished, he argues.
On the allegations against Raman Srivastava, then IG of the South Zone, who was suspected to be an accomplice in the case, Mathews says that this was one of the reasons he recommended that the case be handed over to the CBI.
“It was on my recommendation that the case was handed over to the CBI. There were three reasons for that: first, the investigation had to be conducted outside Kerala in Tamil Nadu; second, in Kerala, the probe had to be done in establishments under the Union government; and third, an officer senior to me was under suspicion,” he says.
On why he took 23 years to write the book, Mathews says that he was waiting to retire so that he could write the book without any ethical problems. “I don’t think it is fair to write service stories before retirement. We can write fiction or poetry when you are in service, but not stuff like this. Nirbhayam is not solely about the ISRO case, but on the other cases which I have investigated,” he says.
What the ISRO espionage case was all about
On October 20, 1994, a Maldives native Mariam Rasheeda was arrested for overstaying without a visa in Kerala. She was later alleged to have connections with ISRO scientist D Sasikumar, and was accused of stealing ISRO secrets for Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence. Later, another Maldivian, Fauzia Hassan was also arrested.
A Special Investigation Team took over the case on November 15, 1994.
The SIT arrested another scientist Nambi Narayanan, as well as Chandrasekharan and SK Sharam, who were both businessmen based in Bangalore.
The case was handed over to the CBI on November 28, 1994.
The CBI submitted a final report to the Chief Judicial Magistrate in April 1996, stating that the case lacked evidence to substantiate the charges. All the six accused were subsequently acquitted by the court.
The case, however, badly affected the K Karunakaran government, and the former Chief Minister resigned in 1995.
Pics: Sreekesh Raveendran Nair