New Delhi — A suspected member of a major spy ring confessed in court today to stealing secret documents from the office of the President for as little as $4 each and bottles of Scotch, the Press Trust of India reported.

  1. Sankaran, personal assistant to President Zail Singh’s press secretary, Satya Narayana, made the statement in a two-hour closed session before Metropolitan Magistrate P. K. Dham.

Court officials refused to discuss his statement, but the domestic news agency Press Trust of India quoted “reliable sources’? As saying Sankaran confessed he passed top-secret documents to businessman Kumar Narain. He said Narain photocopied the papers before returning them.

In 15 pages of testimony, Sankaran revealed the spy ring had been active since early 1982 and involved at least 15 other people, the agency said. Sankaran said he was paid between $4 and $18 per document depending on its importance, the agency reported. In addition to money, he said he also received bottles of Scotch whiskey as payment.

The spy ring, revealed last month by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, allegedly pen etrated Gandhi’s and Singh’s offices as well as the Defense Ministry. Fourteen people have been charged with spying in the case, which may be the most serious breach of security in Indian history.

Hundreds of photocopies of top secret documents concerning military defense purchases, electronics information, India’s atomic energy program, and sensitive internal political matters reportedly were seized in police raids.

Press Trust reported Saturday that prosecutor B. R. Handa told the court at least 96 documents recovered from the suspects so far were covered by India’s Official Secrets Act.

Article extracted from this publication >> February 8, 1985