Activist Arun Ferreira, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, told a special court on Friday that the electronic evidence that the prosecution relied on was recovered without valid authorisation, PTI reported.

The Pune Police arrested Ferreira on August 28, 2018. He is among the sixteen persons arrested for allegedly plotting the violence in Bhima Koregaon village near Pune in 2018. They were later accused of conspiring to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ferreira has alleged that the emails exchanged between co-accused Rona Wilson and another accused person were intercepted by the Pune Police on four occasions in 2018.

“As per the panchnama and dates on the emails, these emails have been downloaded within an hour of being sent to the other email id, which is allegedly of one of the absconding accused,” Ferreira said, reported the Hindustan Times. “This falls under the definition of interception under IT Act.”

On Friday, Ferreira told a special court of the National Investigation Agency that he had filed an application two months ago, seeking directions to the prosecution to provide an order from a competent authority about sanctioned interceptions, PTI reported.

“As per a provision of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act [UAPA], such material shall not be received in evidence or otherwise disclosed in any trial, hearing or proceedings in court, unless the accused have been furnished with a copy of a competent authority,” Ferreira said.

The National Investigation Agency argued that no interception was carried out at any point of the investigation, PTI reported. And so there was no need to obtain an order from any competent authority, the agency added.

The National Investigation Agency also denied the allegation saying that electronic devices seized from Wilson were sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory for examination during the investigation.

“The concerned investigating officer conducted further probe in the presence of two independent witnesses with the help of cyber experts and downloaded the communication of the email following due procedure,” the National Investigation Agency told the court.

Earlier in June, a US-based cybersecurity company claimed that the Pune Police hacked electronic devices owned by Wilson and activists Varavara Rao and Hany Babu and planted fake evidence on them.

In February 2021, a United States-based digital forensics company, Arsenal Consulting, claimed that an attacker had used malware to infiltrate Wilson’s laptop and deposited at least 10 incriminating letters on it. These included a purported letter to a Maoist militant discussing the need for guns and ammunition, and even urging the banned group to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In February this year, California-based cybersecurity company SentinelOne claimed that Wilson had been targeted by two separate groups of hackers before he was arrested in June 2018.

According to SentinelOne, one of the groups that carried out the hacking, called ModifiedElephant, had allegedly planted the documents on Wilson’s device. The other group was identified by the cybersecurity firm as SideWinder.