[Flashback] Indian oil industry embroiled in corporate espionage probe


Posted by Katharine TAN Pei Shi, Year 4 undergrad at the School of Accountancy, Singapore Management University

A major controversy is brewing in India after allegations surfaced that confidential documents were sold by bureaucrats in India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to industry insiders.

Reliance Industries, one of the country’s largest companies, is among firms that have come under the spotlight in what insiders admit is a well-known practice. Indian police have arrested senior executives from top energy firms including Reliance Industries along with consultants and staff at the powerful oil ministry in connection with the scam.

The initial charge reports say policy papers and suggestions for the budget due on Feb 28 were sold for significant cash premiums. The Indian government has promised a full investigation.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has vast oversight over pricing, drilling and other permits as well indirect say over major state-run oil firms such as the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

“Since the situation has come to this, I am guessing all these things must have been transpiring for quite a long time,” said Rajnath Singh, India’s Interior Minister. “Investigations are underway and very soon the truth will be unravelled and those guilty will not be spared.”

Industry insiders claim it is no secret that domestic and foreign companies employ consultants and staff to navigate the country’s complex bureaucracy. But this is the first high-level corruption probe by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime that came to power in May 2014 with significant support from major companies.

The probe also opens up the government to detractors seeking to flay pro-business policies. “This government is accountable for all the misdemeanours and indiscretions which have taken place in the past nine months,” said Manish Tewari from the opposition Congress party. “If there was corporate espionage going on why was this government permitting it? They should have taken action earlier.”

Methods used by big corporate houses to obtain information from government sources are at the heart of the scandal. Industry insiders say the government has to get a tighter grip on commercially valuable information to deter fraud and bring about a level-playing field


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