A 49-year-old Mumbai resident, suspected of having links with spies in Pakistan, has been arrested for allegedly bribing naval personnel in exchange for confidential information, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said on Friday.
Mohammed Haroon Lakdawala used to travel to Karachi under the pretext of the clothing trade, according to a NIA statement. During one such visit, he made contact with two spies, Akbar and Rizwan, who asked him to deposit into the bank accounts of 11 naval personnel, the statement said.
The spy ring was broken in December 2019 by Andhra Pradesh police in cooperation with central institutions such as the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Agency. The NIA took over the investigation in late December.
Security agencies dubbed it “Operation Dolphin Nose”, a reference to the hill next to the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam, where the naval office and housing complex are located. In total, 14 people including 11 naval personnel – many from Vishakhapatnam – and Pakistani-born Indian citizen Shaista Qaiser have been arrested in this case.
According to the NIA, spies based in Pakistan are recruiting agents in India to gather sensitive and confidential information about the movements of ships, submarines and other defense company locations. Navy personnel, who are compromised, make contact with Pakistanis through various social media platforms. Payments are made through Lakdawala.
Investigators had previously told HT that naval personnel, mostly seamen, did not disclose significant information and were paid between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000.
“Lakdawala was basically chosen to make payments to sailors through different modes. For this, he received money from Pakistan. “We are investigating whether he is using the hawala channel to receive funds from Pakistan and the number of visits he has made to Karachi over the years,” said an NIA officer who did not want to be named.
The NIA found that sailors who had been paid by Lakdawala did not have access to sensitive or confidential information, the official added.
After the spy ring was broken, the navy asked all its ranks on warships, shipyards and naval bases to distance themselves from social media and smartphones.
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