Commander Sugunakar Pakala, one of the eight former Indian naval officers facing a death sentence in Qatar, boasts an impressive 25-year career. He accomplished a notable feat by crossing the equator twice aboard the Navy's sole sailing ship, INS Tarangini, Times of India reported.
The recent court verdict sentencing the 54-year-old Sugunakar has left his family in Visakhapatnam and friends in shock. They hold on to the hope that the Indian government will intervene, particularly before his birthday on 18 December. Relatives and friends have been visiting his home to console his wife, son, and daughter.
Sugunakar joined the Navy at 18 and served in the Naval Engineering Corps, with postings on various units and ships. His naval career included successful assignments in Mumbai, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Visakhapatnam, earning commendations on several occasions. He was also recognised for his commitment to social service.
Sugunakar's educational journey began at Korukonda Sainik School in Vizianagaram, where he studied until 1984. He later joined Kendriya Vidyalaya at Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, where his father held the position of principal.
A Krishna Brahmam, who has known Sugunakar since childhood, attested to his innocence. He recalled, "I've known him since he was a child. He was my son Raghu's classmate in Kendriya Vidyalaya. He is a gentleman and has never been involved in any anti-social or criminal activities."
Sugunakar holds a BTech (mechanical) degree from the Naval College of Engineering and an MSc in defense and strategic studies from Defense Services Staff College, Wellington.
After retiring from the Navy on 20 November 2013, he joined Al Dahra Global Technologies, which provided training and logistics support to the Qatari military. At the time of his arrest last year, Sugunakar served as the company's director (FCN).
The case against Sugunakar and the other retired officers was first heard in Doha on 29 March this year. Subsequently, the company, owned by a former Omani air force officer, ceased its operations in May.
Initially, they were advised to prepare for their return to India, but a sudden change of decision by Qatari authorities led them to prison. Sugunakar and his colleagues were kept in solitary confinement in Qatar since August 2022.
Although the charges against them were not publicly disclosed, reports suggest they were accused of espionage.
Colleagues of the retired naval officers expressed shock over the situation, as they had eagerly awaited their release. Only two of the eight convicted employees have their families in Qatar, while the rest are in India, following the developments with apprehension.
"While the Indian government has provided consular access to the ex-officers and facilitated the families to meet them, the matter now needs urgent attention and must be escalated at a diplomatic level," said a colleague who prefers not to be named.
Another former Navy officer and employee mentioned: "Dahra was established in 2015, and we were officially training the Qatari navy. The training was tailored for them, and their navy was extremely pleased with the outcomes..."
The company had grown to about 120 employees, with 90 per cent of them coming from the Indian Navy. "All officers delivering training were Indians, with ages ranging from 45 to 64," the ex-officer explained.
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