INDIA: After the arrest of DRDO scientist Dr. Pradeep Kurulkar (59), in an espionage case, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) is probing the alleged role of an IAF officer in providing defence secrets to Pakistan.
On Monday, ATS Senior Police Inspector Sujata Tanwade informed Special Judge P P Jadhav of the Special Court, Pune, that a senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer named Nikhil Shende was targeted in a honey trap by Pakistani intelligence agencies like Kurulkar.
Shende’s statement has been recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure before the First Class Magistrate at the Shivajinagar Court, Pune Tanwade told the court.
Shende, who is currently stationed in Bangalore, is also being interrogated by IAF officials, and a departmental inquiry has been instituted against him. Originally from Nagpur, Maharashtra, Shende reportedly joined the IAF through a sports quota. IAF officials refused to reveal his exact designation.
Shende is yet to be implicated in the case, and his involvement appears to be limited to casual chatting with a Pakistani woman, sources said. His name was brought to our attention when ATS discovered a message sent to him from the same number that interacted with Kurulkar. ATS is probing whether Shende was targeted by the same person who trapped Kurulkar.
In a similar honey trap case, IAF employee Devendra Sharma, working as an administrative assistant at the Air Force Records Office in Subroto Park, New Delhi, was arrested on espionage charges by the Delhi police crime branch in May 2022.
Kurulkar, who was subjected to a honey trap attempt by Pakistani intelligence agencies, was arrested on May 3. He was stated to be in contact with Pakistani intelligence agencies through WhatsApp and video calls and was sharing classified information with a woman agent using the name Zara Das Gupta. He has been booked under the Official Secrets Act.
He was playing a key role in the design, development, and production of Akash launchers and mission-critical ground systems defence projects of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
In the meantime, the laptop and mobile phone seized from Kurulkar have undergone technical analysis. Several emails sent to him from Pakistan raise suspicion that he might have shared sensitive information that could compromise national security.
Kurulkar was stated to have come into contact with a Pakistani officer in September last year. DRDO began tracking his activities in January this year and informed ATS about them in April. He was arrested by the ATS on May 3.