Petitioners seeking an inquiry into the Rafale jet deal had no authority to present secret official documents before the Supreme Court without the government’s permission, the Centre told the top court on Wednesday. The privileged documents attached in the review petition are sensitive to national security, and those who “conspired in their leakage” are guilty of penal offences including theft, the government said.

The submissions were made by the Defence Ministry a day before the Supreme Court is due to continue hearing the petitions seeking a review of the December 2018 verdict dismissing the need for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the Rafale deal. Earlier in the day, the court had granted the Centre permission to file an affidavit.

In its affidavit, the Defence Ministry said that the review petition deserves to be dismissed, as certain annexures comprise notes marked “secret”. The documents are now available to the “enemy/our adversaries” because the petition has been circulated widely, the affidavit said.

The ministry cited a section of the Indian Evidence Act that prohibits the use of evidence derived from unpublished official records relating to the affairs of the state without permission. The affidavit noted that the documents concerned were exempted from disclosure even under the Right to Information Act.

“Those who have conspired in making the photocopy of these sensitive documents and thereby committing theft...have adversely affected sovereignty, security and friendly relations with foreign countries,” the affidavit said. The matter is the subject of an internal inquiry that was set up on February 28, it added.

The ministry also claimed that the petitioners had used such documents to present a “selective and incomplete picture of internal secret deliberations on a matter relating to national security and defence”, and that this was intended to mislead the court.

In the previous hearing on March 6, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that the review petitions should be dismissed because they are based on documents “stolen” from the Ministry of Defence. However, two days later, Attorney General KK Venugopal told the Supreme Court that the documents were not stolen, but the petitioners were using “photocopies of the original” papers.

In February, The Hindu had published multiple revelations about the deal that were unfavourable towards the government. The reports were based on government documents accessed by the newspaper, which have also been cited by the petitioners Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi had on March 7 said the government was free to investigate how the files went missing, but should also act on those implicated in them, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.