Attorney General KK Venugopal attempted ‘damage control’ on Friday when he said that the “stolen Rafale documents” statement was “wholly incorrect”. On Wednesday, Venugopal had claimed in the Supreme Court that documents related to the Rafale deal were stolen from the defence ministry and also threatened to invoke the Official Secrets Act and take “criminal action” against news media publications The Hindu and ANI.
However, on Friday Venugopal clarified that what he meant in his submission before the apex court was that petitioners in the application used “photocopies of the original papers”, which are deemed secret by the government. “I am told that the opposition has alleged what was argued (in SC) was that files had been stolen from the Defence Ministry.
“This is wholly incorrect. The statement that files have been stolen is wholly incorrect,” he told PTI, in an apparent damage-control exercise.
Venugopal said the application filed by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan, seeking a review of its verdict from the court dismissing pleas for an investigation into the Rafale deal, had annexed three documents which were photocopies of the original.
According to reports, the attorney general’s U-turn came after he faced criticism from various press groups who said his comments had “the potential of sending out a chilling effect to one and all in the media”.
Justice Joseph at the hearing on Wednesday said, “suppose there is a corruption complaint, are you going to shelve it under national security?… Is there liberty to commit corruption?”. The judge questioned Venugopal in response to his “stolen documents” claim.
Venugopal’s comments in the Supreme Court caused a political row, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi targeting the government over stealing of sensitive papers and seeking a criminal investigation. Official sources said the AG’s use of word stolen was probably “stronger” and could have been avoided.