The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Friday said that it had arrested a key conspirator in the Visakhapatnam espionage case which was uncovered in December last year. The central agency has arrested 49-year-old Mohammed Haroon Haji Abdul Rehman Lakdawala in Mumbai.
"The case relates to an international espionage racket involving individuals based in Pakistan and at different locations in India. Pakistan-based spies recruited agents in India for collecting sensitive and classified information regarding locations/movements of Indian Naval Ships and Submarines, and other defence establishments," the NIA said in a statement.
Stating that 14 people had been arrested in the case so far including 11 Navy personnel and one Pakistani-born Indian national Shaista Qaiser, the NIA said, "Investigation revealed that few Navy personnel came in contact with Pakistani nationals through various social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp etc and were involved in sharing classified information in lieu of monetary gains."
The investigation agency said that money was deposited into the bank accounts of the Navy personnel through Indian associates having business interests in Pakistan.
"Haroon visited Karachi in Pakistan on many occasions to meet his handlers under the guise of conducting cross-border trade. During these visits, he came in contact with two Pakistani spies, identified as Akbar alias Ali and Rizwan, who directed him to deposit money into the bank accounts of Navy personnel at regular intervals," the NIA said.
Stating that a number of digital devices and incriminating documents had been recovered from Haroon's residence after a raid, the statement said that further investigation was ongoing.
It was in December last year that the NIA took over the espionage racket case in which a few navy personnel were arrested for allegedly leaking sensitive information to Pakistan intelligence agency ISI.
On December 20, 2019, the Andhra Pradesh Police intelligence wing had busted the espionage racket under an operation named 'Dolphin Nose' in association with central intelligence agencies and Naval Intelligence, with the arrest of seven Indian Navy personnel and a hawala operator.
The arrest of the naval officials from Mumbai, Karwar and Visakhapatnam for leaking sensitive information about the movements of warships and submarines to Pakistani agents had exposed lapses in the security apparatus placed around critical assets in India.
As a fallout of the incident, the Indian Navy had issued a direction to ban the use of all smartphones and social networking platforms onboard ships and naval bases.