In a major success in the Visakhapatnam espionage case, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Friday said it had arrested a key conspirator Mohammed Haroon Haji Abdul Rehman Lakdawala on charge of leaking sensitive information of the Indian Navy to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.
The NIA has been given his transit remand by a Mumbai court. Lakdawala will be presented in a Special NIA court in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh.
An NIA spokesperson said that Lakdawala, a resident of Mumbai, was held from the metropolis on Friday for criminal conspiracy, and under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Official Secrets Act.
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The official said that digital devices and incriminating documents were seized from his residence as well.
The official said that Lakdawala had visited Karachi 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, namely Akbar aka Ali and Rizwan, who directed him to deposit money into the bank accounts of Navy personnel at regular intervals," he said, adding that the same was done through different means.
The Visakhapatnam espionage case relates to an international racket involving individuals based in Pakistan and at different locations in India. On December 30 last year, the NIA has taken over the espionage case, ten days after seven Indian Navy personnel and an alleged hawala operator were arrested on charge of leaking sensitive information to the Pakistan intelligence agency.
The police had said that all the arrested officials were in touch with Pakistani women who had befriended them on Facebook. It is alleged that officials were paid through a hawala operator for providing information. The chats between these sailors, who were being used by Pakistanis, were sexually explicit.
The NIA claimed that Pakistan-based spies recruited agents in India for collecting sensitive and classified information regarding locations or movements of Indian naval ships and submarines, and other defence establishments.
According to NIA officials, the women, who honeytrapped the Navy personnel posing as their friends on Facebook, were set up by the Pakistani intelligence operatives. The sailors were later blackmailed and forced to part with sensitive information.
The official said that a probe revealed that a 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 money was deposited into the bank accounts of these Navy personnel through Indian associates having business interests in Pakistan," he said.
The NIA has so far arrested 14 people including 11 Navy personnel and one Pakistan-born Indian national Shaista Qaiser..