The Essar Tapes: Everything You Need to Know

Who did the tapping, how, who was tapped. What is the political fallout? Find out everything about the Essar Tapes.

4 min read
(Photo: The Quint)

Alleged phone conversations between top political and corporate power brokers of India may indicate how easy it is to ‘manage’ issues of national relevance behind the scenes.

These conversations, apparently recorded in the early 2000s during NDA-I’s tenure according to a letter by Supreme Court advocate Suren Uppal (and now revealed by Indian Express and Outlook) reportedly disclosed:

  • A Rs 2 crore payment to a Supreme Court judge to get a petition dismissed.

  • Senior bank officials to get information that would help in Essar’s restructuring.

  • Conversations of two industrialist brothers with Directors/Promoters of two companies.

  • Conversations of business rivals reaching out to politicians to seek favours.

  • “Espionage by interception” of phones of senior government officials/ministers and officers across ministries.

  • Conversation between a famous industrialist and his company director in 2003 that hints at managing of the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case.

The recordings are yet to be submitted to the authorities for official investigation or judicial scrutiny.

Who Was Tapped?

Former union ministers who held portfolios like railways, finance and defence, heads of India’s biggest corporate conglomerates, their wives, Bollywood actors, senior bureaucrats, heads of PSU banks and many more.

Who Did The Tapping?

The complaint to the PMO is based entirely on audio recordings that Uppal claims to have acquired from former Essar employee Albasit Khan, who was employed with the group for over a decade as its security head.

Albasit Khan (L) and Suren Uppal (R). (Photo Courtesy: <a href="">Facebook</a>)
Albasit Khan (L) and Suren Uppal (R). (Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

Uppal claims that Khan tapped phones on the direction of Prashant Ruia and Ravikant Ruia, the owners of the multi-national conglomerate, Essar.

Khan has since distanced himself from Suren Uppal, saying he had never hired the lawyer to represent him and that the whole story was “concocted” for extortion. Khan’s stance was revealed in an email to Uppal which was forwarded by an Essar spokesperson to The Indian Express.

Claiming that the Essar group has now “won over” Khan, Uppal responded:

I have enough evidence with me that Albasit Khan was in touch with me on the subject of the interception operations. I have logbooks of the entire operation handwritten by Albasit himself. I will prepare a PIL and hand over all this material along with the tapes, running into over 25 hours, to the Supreme Court.
Uppal to The Indian Express

The Mumbai Police Connection

Interestingly, Khan is now denying that he carried out the illegal surveillance, claiming to have received the tapes from a Mumbai Police officer, according to a Mumbai Mirror report.

The report, quoting a retired Mumbai police officer who now works for Essar’s vigilance department, suggests that Khan was a Mumbai Police informer working for Vijay Salaskar. Salaskar was killed in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

When, Where and How?

The conversations were tapped between 2001 and 2006 (The Indian Express) from the ground floor and basement of Essar House in Mumbai and from the company’s guesthouse in Delhi (Outlook).

The conversations were allegedly recorded by tapping into the erstwhile BPL and Hutch servers.

Essar and RIL React

The Quint has accessed Essar Group’s response to Uppal on 17 March 2016, in which they have outrightly denied all allegations as “false” and “extortionist in nature”.

At the outset, our clients deny each and every allegation, statement and assertion made by your client in the caution notice. The allegations (are) completely false and incorrect. Obviously these false and incorrect allegations have been made with a malafide objective of pressuring our clients and/or causing loss and damage, and are extortionist in nature. 
Essar Group’s reply to Suren Uppal

Meanwhile, RIL expressed its “shock” at the reports that suggest they “have been victims of unauthorised and illegal tapping of our telephones.”

Conversations attributed to us are false and appear to have been doctored by someone who seeks to defame us.‎ We have, at all times, abided by the law of the land, both in letter and in spirit in all our actions and business activities and any suggestion of any wrongdoing is plainly false. The reports are unfortunate as they make allegations without accepting any responsibility for the veracity of the contents. We reserve our legal rights to act against this kind of sensationalism.
RIL Statement

Assuring their cooperation, RIL in its statement has requested that the authorities look into the matter and “verify the truth of these allegations and take action against these malicious falsehoods.”

Political Fallout

The JD(U) and CPI said it would raise the issue in the Parliament if the government doesn’t make it’s position clear.

It is shocking that Essar was involved in tapping phones of people in high positions.
Sharad Yadav, JD(U)
We will raise this issue in Parliament as well. This strikes at the very root of our democratic institutions. What the tapes show is that this nexus has been alive and functioning for decades wherein corporate houses dictate government policy and influence all organs of the State.
D Raja, CPI leader and Rajya Sabha MP

The Congress, meanwhile, demanded that the tapes be made public as the people would be the ‘best judge’.

AAP spokesperson Ashutosh said the issue was more important than the Nira Radia tape controversy and urged the PM to order a proper investigation into the matter and make the tapes public.

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