The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that documents related to Rafale deal that have appeared in the media and were cited by those seeking a recall of the December 14 ruling giving a clean chit to the government on the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets, were confidential papers stolen from the Defence Ministry.
Referring to the eight-page dissent note by the three members of India Negotiating Team (INT), Attorney General KK Venugopal told a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice K.M. Joseph that it was being probed if the documents were stolen by former or present employees.
Post lunch, the Attorney General said no FIR had been registered.
He referred to an article in The Hindu on Wednesday by its former Editor N. Ram related to the note by the three members of INT.
The Attorney General took exception to the newspaper publishing a report on February 8 - just prior to the hearing of the Rafale plea by the top court.
"The strategy is that before the hearing of the sensitive case there are newspaper articles to influence the hearing," Venugopal said, and described it as contempt of court.
"What have you done? Papers were stolen; first article came on February 8," the bench said. "Tell us what action you are taking."
Venugopal was asked if the Defence Ministry can file an affidavit stating that the documents published by The Hindu were stolen.
He agreed to do so by next week.
Venugopal was faced with a number of posers from the bench as he contended that since the documents being relied upon for seeking a review of the December 14 judgment were “stolen”, they could not be entertained by the court.
He hammered home the point that unless the sources of the document were bona fide, known or lawful, the court could not look into it.
Disagreeing, Justice Joseph said: "The issue is that the law of the country has been violated. There is allegation of corruption. Can you seek shelter citing national security?"
As the Attorney General said that the court can look into it provided the source of information is disclosed, Justice Joseph, apparently disagreeing, said: "You are saying that it can't be looked into as it is illegally sourced. Even a stolen document can be looked into if it is relevant to the case.
"You can't have a general proposition" that a court is barred from looking into a tainted or stolen document, Justice Joseph added.
Referring to the Official Secrets Act, the Attorney General persisted that the source of the document had to be disclosed.
"If the document is tainted or obtained through doubtful source, should we say that it can't be looked into?" CJI Gogoi asked. "It is taking the law to a higher level."
Venugopal referred to an earlier apex court ruling that documents obtained through questionable sources should not be entertained.
The top court had on December 14 dismissed four petitions seeking a court-monitored probe into the purchase of the jet fighters, saying the decision-making process was not in doubt and that it cannot go into the question of pricing and the choice of offset Indian partner by Dassault.
Urging the court to dismiss the plea for recall of the December 14 judgment and plea for perjury against officials for misleading the court and suppressing the material information, Venugopal said: "Any single sentence coming from the esteemed institution (apex court) will be used to destabilise the government or opposition."
He invoked the need for national security and for Rafale fighter jets. He described the purchase of Rafale jets as "essential for the survival of the nation".
The next hearing is on March 14.