The two journalists were arrested Tuesday following a complaint by Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) on October 2, alleging that they had demanded Rs 100 crore in committed advertising from JSPL in return for dropping an investigation launched by their two channels on the alleged undue benefits accrued to Jindal in the allotment of coal blocks by the UPA government.
Zee has denied the allegations and said the arrests are an attempt to gag the media on the basis of a fraudulent and contrived complaint.
Police sources said the crime branch had also sent a notice three days ago to Zee group chairman Subhash Chandra, asking him to join investigations after an analysis of phone call records allegedly showed that the Zee editors had spoken to Chandra immediately after their first meeting with Jindal at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Delhi in connection with the alleged extortion bid.
Police said the editors and Chandra spoke for 286 seconds, which has led them to request Chandra to join the investigation. Police said that although the two editors were allegedly instrumental in the entire conspiracy, they need to be questioned to ascertain if any others are involved.
The two journalists have been booked under sections 384 (extortion), 420 (cheating), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 511 (punishment for attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment) of the IPC.
During arguments in court, public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan said Chaudhary and Ahluwalia are required to be interrogated to unearth the involvement of Chandra and his son Punit Goenka in the case. Their names have been mentioned in the FIR filed by the HR head of JSPL.
He said police also need to find the source from which the CAG report, which is the subject of dispute between the news channel and the Jindal Group, was obtained. The prosecutor said investigators have evidence in the form of video and audio recordings of the two journalists allegedly demanding money.
He said three officials of Jindal Group — Ravi Mutreja, head of corporate communication, Sushil Kumar, director and Vivek Mittal, senior DGM — were approached by the two editors offering that they would not broadcast reports regarding the alleged involvement of JSPL in the coal blocks allotment controversy.
He said the channel had demanded the money in the form of advertisements for five years.
“We need their sustained custodial interrogation to unearth the conspiracy and to know the source who had cooked up this idea of alleged extortion of money from the Jindal Group as it is not a single person’s decision. This money was for the whole group, so many others are involved in the conspiracy,” Mohan said while accusing Chandra of being complicit in the episode.
He also said that the reports broadcast on the Zee channels about Jindal group’s alleged involvement in the coal controversy were “concocted”.