Anil Ambani, former CBI chief Alok Verma on Pegasus list of targets

Ambani’s name surfaced on the list in 2018 when questions were raised about him getting an offset deal from Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation for the purchase of 36 aircraft

Anil Ambani
The total value of Anil Ambani's undisclosed funds has been assessed by tax officials at Rs 814 crore and tax payable on this amount at Rs 420 crore | File Photo: PTI

In a fresh set of revelations, The Wire has reported that telephone numbers of industrialist Anil Ambani, former CBI director Alok Verma and two other senior officers of the agency were among the potential targets of surveillance via the Israeli spyware Pegasus.

The Wire which is part of the Pegasus Investigative Project led by French nonprofit organization Forbidden Stories and human rights group Amnesty International said that that the phone numbers used by Ambani and another official of the Reliance ADA Group were added to the leaked database in 2018, just when the Narendra Modi government’s purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft and the businessman’s interests in the deal invited widespread criticism.

The Congress had accused the NDA government of altering the UPA government’s arrangement of 2015 and striking an overpriced deal to buy 36 Rafale jets, only to allegedly allow Ambani to win an offset deal from Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation.

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The Wire said, the phone number of Venkata Rao Posina, the representative of Dassault Aviation in India, former Saab India head Inderjit Sial and Boeing India chief Pratyush Kumar also figure in the list of targets.

The list of names that was recently analysed by a consortium of media firms, also has Ambani’s employee Tony Jesudan’s phone number.

“The number of Harmanjit Nagi, head of the French firm energy EDF, is also in the leaked database, a significant choice given that he was a member of Emmanuel Macron’s official delegation during the French president’s visit to India during this period,” The Wire reported.

Three phone numbers registered in Alok Verma’s name made it to the list hours after he was removed as the CBI chief on October 23, 2018. Eight phone numbers of people related to Verma including his wife, his daughter and son-in-law were added to the list, the report said.

Around the same time the numbers of two other senior CBI officials Rakesh Asthana and AK Sharma were added to the list of possible targets.

It was around the time when Verma’s deputy Asthana had levelled allegations of corruption against him. Verma was removed from his post by a high-level committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he was found not to be “functioning with integrity expected of him.”

Sharma, who was said to be in Verma’s camp was transferred to another department in the agency.

The targeted numbers, however, were taken off by February 2019, when Verma retired and the entire “cluster of persons ceased being of interest to the government agency which had added them to the list.”

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The media firms that have analysed the leaked database, however, have clarified that the presence of any phone number on the list doesn’t necessarily prove that it has been hacked.

NSO group, which sells the spyware, however, has claimed that its software is only available to governments and has refused to admit that the leaked list of numbers is of potential targets.