The Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) has said that Pradeep Kurulkar, the Pune-based Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) scientist arrested on May 3 on espionage charges, shared sensitive details about India’s missile, drone and robotics programmes with a female Pakistan-based intelligence operative.
In its charge sheet, submitted to a special court on June 30, ATS claimed to have unearthed “explosive” chats between the scientist and the Pakistani operative. Kurulkar, 60, was director, research and development, at DRDO when he shared this information with the woman “in order to establish intimate relations with her”, said the charge sheet accessed by HT.
It went on to say that the alleged Pakistani agent created multiple fake accounts under different names to engage with Kurulkar. Two of these names were Zara Dasgupta and Juhi Arora. The same operative also set up accounts under these names on messaging apps using two different phone numbers. Both numbers started with the +44 London code. In his messages with the alleged Zara Dasgupta, Kurulkar spoke freely about the Meteor missile which is in the works at DRDO, about the Brahmos missiles, Rafael, Akash and Astra missile systems, and also the Agni-6 missile launcher in the development of which he was involved.
Possibly in his efforts to impress his female interlocutor, Kurulkar also discussed DRDO’s ongoing work on the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, the Bharat Quadcopter, and Rustom, the medium altitude long-endurance unmanned combat air vehicle that DRDO is developing. According to the chats attached in the charge sheet, Kurulkar and the Pakistani operative would preface these serious conversations on defence issues with a playful “Babe”.
While the charge sheet mentioned the information that the so-called Zara Dasgupta sought from him, his responses to her detailing defence details were submitted to the special court in a sealed envelope.
The charge sheet also contended that Kurulkar, who is married to a doctor, liked to brag about his work. In one of the chats attached in the 1,837-page charge sheet, the female Pakistani operative asked him whether the Agni-6 launcher test has been successful, to which he responded saying: “The launcher is my design babe… It was a great success.” These chats between Kurulkar and the alleged Pakistani operative date between September 2022 and February 2023. It was sometime in March this year that DRDO informed the Maharashtra ATS about its suspicions about Kurulkar’s activities and he was subsequently arrested.
The chats appended in the charge sheet also indicated the persistence with which the female Pakistani operative engaged Kurulkar. At a point in one of their conversations, she asked him: “Any new parameters or any change happens… I heard that Agni-6 is also work in progress, uska test kab karna hai (when is the test happening).” To which, he allegedly responded: “Karenge, thoda dheeraj rakho (Will do it, have some patience).”
The Pakistani agent, according to charge sheet, shared three email ids with Kurulkar– email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com. To win his trust, she also shared the passwords for these email ids and then insisted that he download two apps on his mobile which he did.
“By using the app, there might be a chance a of malware been inserted in the mobile phone of the accused,” said the charge sheet. In fact, in the forensic analysis of Kurular’s phone, DRDO experts found a malware and reported this to ATS.
ATS also contended that, over a period of time, such was the familiarity that developed between Kurulkar and the Pakistani operative that he would often share the minutiae of his everyday life with her. According to the charge sheet, in one such chat, he told her how a leopard had strayed into the DRDO complex in August last year. He also went to the extent of sharing the name and other details of the CEO of a private vendor working for the Indian Army and who is involved in the manufacture of robotic equipment for the military.
“Despite knowing that an enemy nation can seek more information and specific information related to the CEO’s working place and the nature of work and the equipment he manufactured for the Armed forces, Kurulkar shared the formation with the operative,” the charge sheet said.
The charge sheet mentioned that the recovery mobile number linked to the email id provided by the operative was traced to Pakistan-based Nayatel, in Islamabad while the IP address for the email id was belonged to Pakistan Telecommunication Limited.
Kurulkar, who is present lodged in Pune’s Yerawada jail, was arrested by ATS on May 3 on charges of espionage and wrongful communication with operative from neighbouring country. ATS has so far examined 203 witnesses as part of its investigation.