New Delhi, June 21: A reported bugging of the offices of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his aides in the North Block has raised the hackles of those in government but an Intelligence Bureau investigation into it had “found nothing in it”.
There was no official word on the alleged “security breach” in the offices of the Finance Minister and his aides—Advisor Omita Paul and Private Secretary Manoj Pant—and two conference rooms used by the minister, who had reportedly written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in September last year, except a brief statement by Mukherjee. Mukherjee is said to have urged the Prime Minister to order a secret inquiry into the “serious breach of security in his office” in the form of “planted adhesives” in 16 locations in a possible surveillance attempt.
No live microphone or recording devices were found, he reportedly said in his letter to the Prim Minister three days after Central Board of Direct Taxes brought in private investigators to conduct an electronic sweep of the Ministry's VVIP chambers.
Confirming a part of the episode, Mukherjee told reporters that the Intelligence Bureau had made investigation into reported bugging in his offices and found “nothing”. “In respect of news item regarding bugging in my offices, the IB investigated into it and found nothing in it,” he said without going into any details.
The BJP jumped into the row saying it was serious issue and deserves to be investigated. “This has come at a time when there are so many cases of financial irregularities and scams. Pranab Mukherjee is number two in the Cabinet.
“Who is bugging its own ministers. It needs to be investigated. It has raised a lot of disturbing questions.” IB, during its investigations, is said to have found that some adhesive type material were spotted in a few places under the table of the Finance Minister and wall of the conference room.
The adhesive material was carefully collected for forensic examination after which it was found that it was nothing other than chewing gum.
The IB, in its report, also said that there was no groove or cavity in places where the chewing gum was spotted, official sources said, adding in one of the places, the adhesive had a paint coating on it suggesting that it had been there for many months.
In the wake of this episode, CBDT inspectors had been regularly conducting electronic sweeps of “sensitive locations” in the finance ministry.
The reported bugging of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's office gave BJP a handle to allude to a “civil war” between him and Home Minister P Chidambaram, saying this seems to have led the former to ask for a probe by a private agency and not government sleuths.
“Today, the UPA government is completely directionless, rudderless, without leadership and apprehensive. The situation has come to such a pass that the Finance Minister suspects his office is bugged.
The country wants to know who is bugging his office,” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said. He indicated there seems to be a lack of trust between the Finance Minister and the Home Minister.
“Instead of getting the investigations into the matter done by the Home Ministry (under which several investigating agencies fall), the Finance Ministry had asked a private detective agency to probe,” Hussain said.
He demanded details of the probe report be made public as the people want to know the facts.
“On the one hand, this government is talking to civil society (on Lokpal Bill) and on the other there is a civil war on amongst its leaders,” Hussain said. He maintained this had led union ministers to engage in a show of oneupmanship with their cabinet colleagues.
Hussain wanted to know that if the office of the Finance Minister of this country is not safe—especially at a time when the government is facing so many corruption charges—then which office is.
“People want to know if this government is being blackmailed (by those bugging the office),” Hussain said. The Lok Sabha MP maintained that with some Congress leaders openly expressing that a particular party leader should become Prime Minister, the incumbent Manmohan Singh should make his views on this issue clear to Sonia Gandhi.
BJP Vice President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi termed the reported bugging of the Finance Minister's office a “serious” issue especially as it has occurred at a time when several high-profile cases of financial scam have come to light.
“It is a serious matter. If what has come to light is true, then it needs to be investigated. This has come at a time when there are so many cases of financial irregularities and scam,” Naqvi said.
He wondered who could be behind such an act and alluded to somebody in government having an interest in bugging the Finance Minister's office.
“Pranab Mukherjee is no. 2 in the cabinet. Who is bugging its own ministers? It needs to be investigated. This raises a lot of disturbing questions,” Naqvi said. PTI