'It’s a 20-year old saga, on a Christmas eve night, on 25, Dec 2000, I recall the event even today, how myself carried out the sting operation in the Defence Minister’s official residence', narrates Mathew Samuel, the former managing editor of the news magazine 'Tehelka', who unfolded India's first sting operation that still stains as the blemish and huge embarrassment for the Vajpayee led BJP government.
Codenamed as the 'Operation West End', the sting has exposed and exhumed the purported corruption in India's defence procurement. When the sting operation carried out, George Fernandes, the founder of the Samata party, was India's Defence Minister. In what has become one of the biggest defence corruptions, the revelation has thrown a bombshell against the then ruling BJP government and went to create massive furor and raffle across the country.
The sting operation has happened at the official residence of George Fernandes in Delhi. Tehelka's journalist Mathew Samuel, who went as the representative of the fictitious UK-based arms company 'West End International', taped the corruption taken by Samata Party's leader Jaya Jaitly for the supply orders of the hand-held thermal imagers for the Indian army. The shocking corruption case has happened two decades ago and now Jaya Jaitly, retired Major General SP Murgai, and Samata party leader Gopal Pacherwal have been convicted for the crime after they found guilty of corruption.
As the case took nearly two decades for the conviction, the pilot of the sting operation Mathew Samuel has exclusively narrated to us about how he carried out the operation and what he went through, 'I recall the event even today, how myself carried out the sting operation in the Defence Minister’s official residence. Its pertained in the VVIP locality, in Krishnan Menon Marg. My body was wired, the cables along with an analog camera, recorder, lens, and a switch, with an on and off button.'
'The battery life was only 1 hour and I had to reach in the chilling cold night at Defence Minister’s official residence premises, Mr. George Fernandes, his party president Madam Jaya Jaitly, whom I had to meet for the political cover, and to get the evaluation letter for the fictitious product. Two middlemen, Major S P Murugai, just retired from the ministry of defence and Gopal Pacharwal, Samata Party president of Rajasthan state unit. Before going to meet Jaya Jaitly in defence minister’s residence, my editor Aniruddh Bahal did warn me that he had already shown this briefcase camera to Ajay Jadeja, (former Indian cricketer) son-in-law of Ms. Jaitly, and he did show the same to Jaya Jaitly and instructed me to carry tie devices'.
Samuel recalls, 'A man with two spy cameras. His prediction was not wrong. When the dealers are wheelers, when arrived in the defence minister’s residence, they instructed me that Madam Jaitley won’t allow any briefcase accompanying, to meet her. She was having strong doubt that it would be a spy camera. Make sure, these were all conversations recorded and produced at the court. I took the cash from the briefcase folded it in the envelope provided by Surendar Surekha, a dealer wheeler (he later became an approver during the CBI trial inside the court). I switched on the tie devices, myself successfully recorded the event as I gave 2 lakhs to Madam Jaitley, then, as she handed over the money to Gopal Pacherwal. This was a major event that happened on that day'.
While speaking about what he went through after revealing a major scam, Mathew Samuel said, 'I recall how Jaya Jaitley and the battery of lawyers, tried to demoralize and destroy, and to even destabilize my family affairs drastically, that too evilly designed several times. They attacked me saying that I am an uncivilized boy from a rural area. Of course, I am a boy from a rural village background. All these allegations one by one, I was hearing for the last several years. Many trial court judges warned them that it is too much and too much, but they were continuing with their agenda till my final date of hearing on February 2020'.
Samuel further recalls what happened in 2019, ' In 2019, in Saket Court complex, Madam Jaya Jaitley started a conversation addressing me “Naughty Mathew”, the first word she began. The reason behind was that, as my mother was seriously ill, I told the trial court to give an exemption from trial court since I was the sole person to look after my mother and she was in Kerala. She told me, I am elder than your mother. 20 years I am behind this. If this would not have happened I would have been a Cabinet Minister by now'.
'My reply was simple, this was just a professional journalistic work and I do not have any personal animosity with you or your family, or even George Saab. You can even ask the co-accused right now, who then brought me to you. I also told her, when I offer the money you can shout at me and throw me out of your premises, and I will go back. Instead, here you received it. How can you accuse me that I trapped you? For which, she was blatantly quiet'. Samuel adds.
The graft case and corruption had revolved around the Vajpayee government as a huge setback and the nationwide outrage against the defence scam has forced Fernandes to step down as the Defence Minister for seven months and then BJP Chief Bangaru Laxman resigned from the post. When Congress took over the power to CBI, it handed over the cases to CBI and the special CBI court had on July 21 convicted Jaya Jaitly, SP Murgai, and Gopal Pacherwal under section 120B - Criminal conspiracy of the IPC and section 9 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The Delhi court has, on Thursday, awarded the trio with four years of imprisonment in the case that dates back twenty years. However, the Delhi High court later stayed the judgment of the lower court and awarded bail for Jaya Jaitly, amid being proven that they are guilty of corruption. Mathew Samuel further reveals that, 'A BJP national spokesman who hails from Gujarat, on 14.3.2001, called a press conference, and allegedly called me, Mathew Samuel is an American stooge after the Tehelka exposure on the defence corruptions in high level. The same person is the highly decorated Prime Minister currently. During his own tenure, the CBI special court convicted Jaya Jaitley and another two accused, a 4 years’ rigorous imprisonment and a 1 lakh rupee fine'.
Watch the video of Mathew Samuel as he speaks about the sting operation: