Former Kerala Director General of Police Siby Mathews has claimed that Intelligence Bureau officials pressured him and other senior state police officials to arrest ex-Indian Space Research Organisation scientist Nambi Narayanan in a 1994 espionage case, reported The Indian Express on Wednesday.

Mathews made the claims in his bail application in a case registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation against him and 17 other police and Intelligence Bureau officials on charges of framing Narayan in the spy case. A district sessions court in Thiruvananthapuram is expected to take up the bail application on Wednesday.

The CBI had begun its investigation in the wrongful arrest of Narayan and others after a Supreme Court order in April on the basis of a report filed by a three-member committee led by retired judge DK Jain. The court had tasked Jain to investigate the officials responsible in the case because of which the prominent space scientist was falsely implicated.

In his application, Mathews, who was heading the Special Investigation Team investigating the espionage case, claimed that the Thiruvananthapuram city police chief at that time had said that the case was registered as per the instructions of the central agencies. One Mariyam Rasheeda, a resident of Maldives, was arrested based on the directions of then IB Deputy Director RB Sreekumar.

“It was also stated in that [city police chief] report that Rasheeda and Fousiya Hassan [another Maldives resident] had connections with one senior ISRO scientist,” Mathews said. “When Fousiya was questioned, there revealed a spy network linking Colombo, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram and Maldives.”

He said that the arrest and questioning of another ISRO scientist, Sasikumaran, and Chandrasekhar, a representative of the Russian Space Agency and a Bengaluru-based businessman, corroborated the statements of the Maldives citizens and strengthened the involvement of Narayanan, reported PTI. “By this time, IB officials were pressurising the Special Investigation Team and senior police officers of Kerala to arrest Raman Srivastava [then Inspector General of south zone], Nambi Narayanan and others on the ground that the matter was related to [the] security of the nation,” Mathews claimed in his plea.

The application said that actions taken by Mathews and his team were based on the information from other agencies. So, the application contended, that the actions were taken in good faith and the petitioner was entitled to be given protections under the laws.

“Even if that information is found to be mere apprehensions or suspicions by the subsequent agency on final investigation, no criminal conspiracy could be alleged in respect of such actions,” it said, reported PTI.

On the allegations of custodial torture, Mathews said that Narayan did not say anything on the matter when has repeatedly produced before the court.

Mathews also pointed out that he had told the then state police chief to recommend the Kerala government to transfer the investigation to the CBI as the inquiry was spread over several states and various central government organisations. “If there was any conspiracy or bad faith on the part of the petitioner, he ought not have recommended the transfer of probe to another agency,” the application said. “There is no doubt that the petitioner was taking all actions in respect of the cases in absolute faith and he is entitled to all protections under Section 64 (3) of the Kerala Police Act.’’

He further claimed that the alleged delay on part of the Kerala Police and IB, as stated by the CBI, would call only for disciplinary action if they are found true. He added that such disciplinary actions were unsustainable as all the officers concerned have retired.

ISRO espionage case

Narayanan and six others were accused of selling secrets pertaining to ISRO’s cryogenic programme to women who were allegedly spying for Russia, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and other countries. He and two others – Bengaluru-based businessmen Chandrasekharan and SK Sharam – were arrested in November 1994 on charges of espionage. The case was later handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. In its final report to the chief judicial magistrate in April 1996, the CBI said there was lack of evidence to substantiate the accusations.

All the accused were acquitted by a division bench of the Kerala High Court. In its order, the court had said there was no need to take action against the former director general of police and retired superintendents of police KK Joshua and S Vijayan. In 2015, Narayanan moved the Supreme Court seeking criminal and disciplinary action against the officers. He accused them of falsely implicating him in the case.

In September 2018, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said he was a victim of the allegations made by the Kerala Police. The Supreme Court had said Narayanan’s arrest was “needless and unnecessary” and had also granted him a compensation of Rs 50 lakh for being subjected to mental cruelty in the case. Besides this, the National Human Rights Commission had recommended Rs 10 lakh compensation.

Narayanan had filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court to challenge the Kerala government decision to not take any action against erring police officers.