Extortion via electoral bonds: Probe in Telangana phone tapping case reveals shocking details

The case is related to illegal surveillance of mobile phones of politicians, businessmen and several others during the previous BRS regime.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Mar 26, 2024 | 4:09 PM Updated Mar 26, 2024 | 4:09 PM

File photo of Praneeth Kumar

The deeper the Hyderabad police are digging into the shameful phone tapping scandal in Telangana, the uglier the findings are turning out to be.

The case is related to illegal surveillance of mobile phones of politicians, businessmen and several others during the previous BRS regime.

The police have already arrested two additional SP rank officers, besides one DSP D Praneeth Kumar, who is the main accused in the case. His team in the Special Intelligence Bureau (SIB) is alleged to have resorted to illegal surveillance and phone tapping of political parties and businessmen.

Also Read: Phone tapping case: Two more policemen arrested in Telangana

Illegal surveillance, phone tapping, extortion

The latest discovery the police have made as they tried to fathom the case was that the SIB team, which was into phone tapping operation, arm- twisted businessmen into buying electoral bonds and gifting them to the BRS.

The police were startled to find out that the SIB under its former chief T Prabhakar Rao conducted the operations with impunity.

The investigating police have issued a lookout circular for Prabhakar Rao and two others to know at whose instance they had resorted to phone tapping in the wake of unsubstantiated reports implicating some politicians in the scandal.

Apart from gathering sensitive political intelligence for the then ruling party, the team also allegedly extorted huge sums of money on the sly from hawala operators, who cannot come out in the open and lodge complaints with the police as their business is illegal.

The SIB police also allegedly collected money from the realtors and other businessmen after recording their conversations, which gave away how they circumvented law in making money.

Also Read: T’gana DSP-rank officer suspended, booked for tampering with SIB evidence

Misuse of government equipment by SIB 

To tap into the phones of the politicians, businessmen and realtors, the SIB team had allegedly misused the special equipment procured by the government to keep tabs on the movements of the Maoists in the state.

It all began when the police began investigating the complaint lodged by SIB additional SP D Rajesh on 10 March, six days after his suspicion for “misconduct” and “abuse of official position”.

The sections under which the case was registered included breach of trust, criminal trespass, tampering with evidence, criminal conspiracy, Prevention of Destruction of Public Records Act 1984 and the Information Technology Act.

The police said that he caused the disappearance of specific computer systems and other official data of the SIB along with clandestinely obtained data, by turning off CCTV cameras in collusion with others, with the intention of wrongful gain.

Also Read: T’gana officer allegedly stole ₹66 lakh meant for milk supply to tribal children

Main accused Praneeth Kumar’s offences

The police, on 12 March, apprehended Praneeth Kumar at about 10.30 a.m. at his residence in Sircilla. Praneeth Kumar, during the course of investigation, is understood to have confessed to having committed the offences under various Acts.

He was produced before the court the next day, which remanded him to judicial custody in Chanchalguda prison in Hyderabad.

In the remand report submitted to the court while producing Praneeth Kumar, the police said they had seized three cell phones and one laptop from him. The police accused him of removal of evidence, destruction of public property and tampering with electronic evidence.

They said that Praneeth Kumar had tampered with evidence in 17 computers and that he had used cutters to destroy the hard discs retrieved from the SIB on the night of 4 December, the day after the results of the Assembly elections came out.

The police said that he broke the hard disk that he removed from the SIB servers into pieces and threw them away in Musi River near Hyderabad and burnt the physical documents.

He also admitted snooping into the phones of hundreds of politicians and businessmen.

Also Read: Revanth government crackdown on alleged scams under BRS

Arrests and confessions

The next big development took place when the police on 23 March arrested Additional DCP, City Security Wing (CSW) Thirupathanna who worked as Additional SP, SIB and N Bhujanga Rao, Additional SP, Bhupalpally, who also worked as additional SP, Intelligence Department.

The police said that the two officers during interrogation confessed to their involvement in phone tapping operations.

They admitted to conspiring to monitor private persons illegally by developing their profiles and causing the disappearance of evidence by destroying public property to conceal their involvement in collusion with Praneeth Kumar.

They were produced in the court which had remanded them to judicial custody.

The police are planning to seek custody of the two additional DSPs and Praneeth Kumar for interrogation. They want to question the two senior police officers in the presence of Praneeth Kumar since the arrests were made based on his confession.

The police are understood to have seized the pieces of the hard disk from the bed of Musi River under a bridge near Nagole area and sent them to the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL).

As the two Additional SPs had spilt the names of former SIB Chief Prabhakar Rao, former Additional DCP, Task Force P Radha Kishan Rao, and a news channel owner Shravan Rao, the police issued look out circulars for them as they could not be found at their residences.

Prabhakar Rao is suspected to have left for the US immediately after the arrest of Praneeth Kumar.

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)