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Source: Dallas Morning News (TX), March 17, 2001 p26A.
Title: Web reporters uncover India defense corruption.(NEWS)
Electronic Collection: CJ71810612
Full Text COPYRIGHT 2001 The Dallas Morning News, L.P.
A feisty, year-old Internet media company disguised its reporters as weapons dealers,gave them piles of cash and dispatched them to expose corruption in India's politicaland military establishment.
The result was hours of videotape that captured defense officials accepting bribesfor arms contracts - an expose leading to the resignations of two Cabinet ministersand calls for the government to step down.
The scandal has set off screaming matches in Parliament and prompted Prime MinisterAtal Bihari Vajpayee on Friday to promise an inquiry to "clean up the dirt." The furorforced U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to cancel a visit to Parliament.
"Our job was to blow the whistle on corruption in India's defense procurement. We wantedto nail them down," said Tarun J. Tejpal, the 37-year-old chief executive of the media company Tehelka.com.
His company's upstart Web site, which carries the banner "News. Views. All the juice"and runs an eclectic collection of news, political intrigue, literature and sports inEnglish, has hit a nerve among Indians.
Since it broke the scandal Tuesday, the site has been flooded with 1,000 e-mails dailyand millions of hits, making it difficult to log on, said Tehelka.com's information manager, Sanjiv Kapoor.
Reactions to the expose have ranged from euphoria among its readers to calls for its young reporters to be arrested.
"I'm proud to be an Indian today! We've shown the corrupt underbelly of India that they can no longer take us for granted," Adnan Adeeb said in a letter to Tehelka.com.
The company launched itself in May by interviewing a key figure in a cricket match-fixing scandal.
Then in August, Tehelka.com reporters began the undercover operation into India's defense purchases. Their plan was to enter at the lowest level û the section officer in defense procurement - and work up.
Tehelka.com reporters Aniruddha Bahal, 25, and Mathew Samuel, in his 30s, spent months pretending to be defense contractors and pushing a fake $870,000 deal for hand-held thermal cameras and other equipment. They secretly filmed the transactions.
What they found astounded them.
"Eight months into the investigation we are still astonished at how incredibly high the ladder goes. ... We are still astonished at how blinding the greed was, that two rank amateurs with close to no knowledge of defense hardware, hawking a patently absurd product, could go so far as to slice open an entire industry of high corruption," said Mr. Tejpal, who has worked as a journalist for some of India's leading publications.
The scandal rattled Mr. Vajpayee's government, which took office in 1998 promising clean government. The opposition has called for him to resign.