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Madhuri Met Her Lovers In Islamabad Safe House Regularly

The tale of a disgruntled Ministry of External Affairs official turning into a spy for Pakistani intelligence agencies is gradually unravelling with investigators saying Madhuri Gupta allegedly had a “relationship of personal affection” with Jamshed,
PTI May 03, 2010 13:34 IST
The tale of a disgruntled Ministry of External Affairs official turning into a spy for Pakistani intelligence agencies is gradually unravelling with investigators saying Madhuri Gupta allegedly had a “relationship of personal affection” with Jamshed, an aide of her “principal handler”, Mubashar Raja Rana, reports Indian Express.

More importantly, the three had set up a common email id — sultanarao@ gmail.com — to access information stored as drafts. Some emails were also exchanged, and all this is now a subject of investigation.

Investigators say Gupta was constantly egged on by her handlers, who used her disenchantment with the Indian officialdom to good effect.  

Though she has denied taking money for the alleged dealings, her bank accounts reportedly show a healthy cash balance and this is being investigated.

According to sources, the “spying” story began when Gupta, a 1983-batch IFS-B officer, got acquainted with a journalist of a reputed media group in Pakistan. Known for his strong anti-India views, the scribe had often been denied an Indian visa and approached Gupta to help him. She was apparently sympathetic towards his case but explained to him that there was little she could do.

This journalist is learnt to have later introduced her to Rana, said to be a Deputy Director in Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau. This was sometime in 2008, a little over six months after she had moved to Islamabad mission as attaché — later promoted to Second Secretary — to translate Urdu press clippings. Rana then introduced her to his assistant and aide, the 31-year-old Jamshed.

The trio seemed to have hit it off well and, officials say, would meet occasionally at a safe house — House No. 24, Sector H-8, Islamabad — besides keeping in touch through the Net. Jamshed allegedly developed a close personal relationship with Gupta, and became a source of emotional comfort.

According to investigators, this turned out to be a targeted spy trap and Gupta a perfect candidate. She had been disgruntled throughout her career, even though she did get as many as five foreign postings, including a deputation as civil liaison officer to the UN mission in Croatia.

Her litany of complaints against her ministry and the IFS officialdom, sources said, is endless. She is believed to have complained about how she was refused a few extra days and some additional help to sell off her car before moving out of Baghdad on transfer while others were given permission. Her uneasy relationship with her superiors also ensured that her application for study leave to do a Ph.D in JNU was turned down.

Gupta, nonetheless, did complete a Ph.D on Islam and Sufism from JNU in the mid-1990s despite being transferred to different places during that time. Her first foreign posting was Kuala Lumpur, then Liberia, Baghdad, Croatia, and finally Islamabad in 2007. She was at the Indian Council of World Affairs before being shifted to Pakistan.

While Jamshed won her affection, Rana was apparently effusive in praise of her inputs. Even though she never managed to get any significant information, sources said, Rana would praise her for her “well-written reports”, say sources. He would tell her that the reports were being sent straight to Pakistan's Director of Intelligence Bureau, and that the latter was quite impressed by the quality of work. He would also empathise and express astonishment at the Indian government's inability to recognise her talent.

The emails, sources said, showed she used to pass on regular sundry information. Rana and Jamshed had instructed her to specifically keep a close watch on the activities and meetings of the High Commissioner, Deputy High Commissioner and the R&AW official in the mission. There is apparently evidence to show that she told her handlers about her inability to access high-level information. Yet, she is said to have enthusiastically passed on information like the list of people to whom the High Commissioner sends gifts. And the identities and vehicle numbers of those who visited the High Commission premises.

Subsequently, Rana seemed to have started handing over more difficult tasks to her. There is evidence to show that she was asked to find out about military exercises and deployments, which Gupta said was very difficult for her to obtain though she did make queries, which alerted others in the mission.

He then asked her to get the details of the agenda for the Foreign Secretary-level talks, which were held in February. Later, Rana tasked her to visit Jammu & Kashmir and get details of dams being planned in the state, particularly the Kishenganga project.

It was in this context that she set up the trip to visit her friend Dr Champa Sharma in Rajouri. She returned and told her handlers that there was not much she could get but had put certain other people on the job. Her frequent travels to India are being looked at closely now. She was apparently also delighted when she was asked to come to Delhi in connection with the SAARC meet and shared the same with her handlers. That, however, was an Indian trap to arrest her on espionage charges after six months of rigorous monitoring.

Though the final word is still not out on the investigation front, officials are mostly convinced that she was not part of a larger spy ring and that in the end was an easy target as she felt “deprived of recognition”.  

Mail Today reports that  it seems someone higher up in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) might have helped her get a posting in Pakistan despite her track record being far from satisfactory. An Islamabad posting is not approved on the basis of personal likes and dislikes and the person's background is carefully scrutinised.

It seems this may have been compromised in Gupta's case. She had undue curiosity about things that did not concern her, a source in the investigating agency said. Gupta's unusual behaviour came under the scanner way back in the mid-1980s, when she was a relatively junior officer.

During an international meet (of Commonwealth nations) in Delhi, Gupta's extraordinary interest in matters beyond her brief was noticed by a senior, and it was later mentioned in her annual confidential report. Sources said the ministry ought to have taken cognisance of it when she was later posted in Pakistan. Gupta spent lavishly, particularly on clothes and jewellery. She was susceptible to pampering and also nursed a grudge against Group-A IFS officers.

Diplomats with such traits are the usual targets of intelligence agencies across the world. So, the MEA should have been cautious while sending Gupta to Pakistan, the sources said.  

But it remains inexplicable why an exception was suddenly made in her case despite the fact that she was denied any special favour or support by the ministry for a long period.

Questions are also being raised about who authorised her posting in Islamabad. There have been references to a ‘godfather' during her interrogation, whom she had also blamed.

It has been learnt that a senior MEA official of the rank of joint secretary or above (posted at the headquarter then) facilitated the posting that Gupta was craving for. This official is learnt to have been sympathetic towards Gupta.

Gupta has had run- ins with senior IFS- A grade officers on various assignments in foreign countries over the past three decades.

One of her grudges was that her MEA bosses did not grant her the four- year paid study leave that she said she was entitled to. The sources said paid study leave was a norm irrespective of the rank in any government service. So, there must been a valid reason for making an exception in Gupta's case.

There have been instances when IFS- B officers have been promoted and made ambassadors or high commissioners. Given her academic background, Gupta too could have been promoted but for her attitude, the sources claimed.

Gupta had complained that she had faced departmental hurdles while selling off or bringing her car back to India after some of her foreign postings. The sources claimed this too was unusual.

In Pakistan, Gupta had got a car with a diplomatic number plate, her interrogators revealed. Following her stint in Baghdad, she was not allowed to sell off her car immediately.

There were also “ hurdles” in her path as she tried to bring her favourite car to India following a UN mission in Africa. It is also learnt that she used her knowledge of Urdu to familiarise herself with bilateral issues.