During the investigation into the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) espionage case, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) found that scientist Pradeep Kurulkar had expressed his intention to show a "highly classified" report on the BrahMos missile project with a female Pakistani Intelligence Operative (PIO) named "Zara Dasgupta" when they meet in person.
Pradeep Kurulkar, the head of DRDO's Research and Development Establishment (Engineers) or R&D (E) laboratory, was arrested on 3 May by the Maharashtra ATS under sections of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) related to spying and wrongful communication with the female PIO in a suspected case of honey trap.
According to the ATS, the female PIO, who is now wanted accused in the case, initially contacted Kurulkar on WhatsApp, claiming to be a software engineer based in the UK. She enticed him with explicit messages, voice and video calls, and Kurulkar engaged in multiple conversations with her between 10 June 2022 and 24 February 2023.
The ATS has alleged that Zara aimed to obtain confidential information from Kurulkar about various DRDO and defence projects in India.
Kurulkar got "attracted" to her and allegedly misused his position to share confidential information.
During the investigation, the ATS obtained the WhatsApp conversations between the two individuals. These chats have been included as evidence in a chargesheet that consists of six volumes and 1,837 pages.
The chargesheet has been filed before a special court in Pune.
According to the chargesheet, the two individuals discussed the BrahMos missile from 19 October to 28 October 2022.
In one conversation, Zara asked, if the BrahMos missile was also the other person's invention, referring to it as the "dangerous one."
“Brahmos was also your invention babe…. The dangerous one…”, Zara asked.
“I have initial design report some 186 A4 size on all Brahmos versions," Kurulkar replied.
Later, Kurulkar allegedly told her, “I cannot send copy of that report to WA or mail it is highly classified… I will trace and keep it ready when you are here will try and show you here", reports Indian Express.
The chargesheet highlights this particular chat dated 28 October 2022, where Kurulkar acknowledges the highly confidential nature of the information and the limitations of sharing it through digital platforms.
Despite this, Kurulkar assures Zara that he will show her the report when she “meets him personally”.
In addition to the BrahMos missile, the chargesheet reveals that Kurulkar and Zara also had WhatsApp conversations about various other defense projects and equipment.
These include Agni 6, Rustom (a medium altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle), Surface to Air Missiles (SAM), Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV), Drone projects, Quadcopter, DRDO duty chart, Meteor missile, Rafael, Akash, and Astra missile.
The chats also mention a private Indian defence company executive who is a DRDO vendor and supplies robotic equipment to the Indian forces.
ATS has also submitted “confidential” documents pertaining to the probe in this case to the court in a sealed envelope.
In a recent hearing, Kurulkar's lawyer, Rhishikesh Ganu, requested copies of these "confidential" documents to prepare his defence.
According to the chargesheet, Kurulkar added Zara to a WhatsApp broadcast group called "Happy Morning" and allegedly shared the names of two DRDO scientists during their conversation.
The ATS has also taken statements from these two scientists.
The chargesheet includes WhatsApp chats discussing a "Quadcopter" video, where Zara mentions trying to spot Kurulkar in the video but only sees navy personnel and foreigners.
Kurulkar explains that he was behind the copter, and the video was primarily focused on its flight direction. In the same conversation, Zara expresses surprise at seeing someone sitting in a quadcopter and asks if it is dangerous.
“First time I saw someone sitting in a quadcopter… But where can it be used… Dangerous nahi hey kia?” Zara asked.
Kurulkar replies, “Nahi will talk later, we do extensive testing before actual use on field". Kurulkar also told Zara here that the project is “under testing”.
During a conversation about the "Agni 6 missing launcher", Kurulkar informs Zara that he designed the launcher and considers it a great success.
Zara asks about the testing of Agni 6, to which Kurulkar replies, "Night Fire.... Karenge, thoda dhiraj rakho" (We will do it, have some patience).
In other chats mentioned in the chargesheet, Kurulkar shares certain details of agreements between India and other countries. As per the chargesheet, ATS alleges that Kurulkar shared some links with Zara and, in response to her questions, he reportedly informed her that the "Air force system missiles have been installed across all borders in India".
According to ATS, the DRDO received information about the accused making illegal contact with a Pakistan-based operative.
Subsequently, on 24 February 2023, DRDO officials seized various electronic devices used by the accused, including cell phones, laptop, and desktop hard discs, for forensic investigation as part of the standard procedure.
Following a probe conducted by the DRDO's internal standing committee and a forensic report, it was revealed that Kurulkar had allegedly maintained constant communication with a female Pakistani operative through WhatsApp messages, voice calls, and video calls. The ATS claims that he also shared sensitive information with her.
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