The Crime Branch of Delhi Police on Tuesday arrested Zee News editor and business head Sudhir Chaudhary and Zee Business editor and business head Sameer Ahluwalia on charges of extortion and criminal conspiracy.
The arrests came eight weeks after Congress MP Naveen Jindal’s Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) filed an FIR on October 2, alleging that the Zee executives 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 allocation of coal blocks by the UPA government.
Zee issued a statement “vehemently denying all allegations levelled against it”, and strongly protesting the “crude and direct attack on the freedom of the press”.
JSPL had accused the Zee group, Chaudhary and Ahluwalia of criminal conspiracy, intimidation and defamation, and alleged that Zee group chairman Subhash Chandra and his son Puneet Goenka were part of the conspiracy.
JSPL had also given police video and audio recordings of at least three meetings between JSPL officials and Chaudhary and Ahluwalia on September 13, 17 and 19 in Delhi’s Hyatt Regency hotel.
Police said on Tuesday that Chaudhary and Ahluwalia were arrested after forensic analysis showed that the video and audio clips had not, as the two journalist-executives had alleged, been “edited” or “doctored”.
SBS Tyagi, deputy commissioner of police (Crime Branch), said, “Chaudhary and Ahluwalia have been arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy and extortion. The case was registered with the anti-extortion cell of the Crime Branch after the HR head of Jindal’s company gave a written complaint.”
When contacted, Zee News Ltd CEO Alok Agrawal said, “I have heard about the arrests. All I can say is it is the saddest day for the Indian media after the Emergency.”
In its statement, Zee said, “After over 65 years of independence now the present Congress-led government is pushing media not to say the truth and gag its mouth. It is practically Emergency revisited in India today...
“While the matter is sub judice... to circumvent the judicial process and the orders of the Hon’ble Mumbai High Court, the Delhi Police at the behest of (the) Congress MP orchestered arrests of two senior editors... on the basis of a fraudulent and contrived complaint filed on behalf of his (Jindal’s) company...