Ex-Army officer’s death in Tihar: Police say China link, Rs 65-crore FD

Mahender Singh Manral
Captain Mukesh Chopra, a discharged Army officer, allegedly fell to his death in Tihar Jail.

Four days after Captain Mukesh Chopra, a discharged Army officer, allegedly fell to his death in Tihar Jail, prompting a magisterial inquiry, police sources claimed their investigation had found that the 64-year-old had been staying at a guest house of the Aviation Research Centre where his room had been booked by a retired officer who had once worked with the ARC. Chopra, the sources claimed, had been chatting with a China-based individual via a social media app.

Arrested on November 2 for allegedly stealing strategy-related books from the Manekshaw Centre in Delhi Cantonment, Canada-based Chopra was questioned in police custody for three days. He was sent to judicial custody on November 6 and died a day later. Chopra’s lawyer and brother have questioned the circumstances of his death and the police insinuation that he had been spying for the Chinese.

On November 8, his lawyer Deepak Tyagi questioned the Tihar authorities account that Chopra jumped off a jail building: “If they had accused him of spying for the Chinese government, then he should have been kept in a secure ward. We have also found that he was not given proper medical care while taken to hospital”.

His brother Rangnesh Chopra told The Indian Express: “My brother was subjected to interrogation which lasted for more than 15 hours every day he was in police custody. He would sleep for only five hours before they would wake him up. My brother was a former Indian Army officer and he was branded a spy.”

Police claimed they recovered four mobile phones from Chopra at the time of his arrest. “Chopra disclosed he had served as a Captain with a parachute regiment and was posted in Leh. He was discharged from service in 1983. He claimed he had property in Chhatarpur and Greater Kailash. He also claimed he had Rs 65 crore in fixed deposits,” an officer said.

According to police, Chopra moved to Canada with his wife and daughter in 1983, and later obtained a US passport. “He had an Overseas Citizen of India card. His passport had a long-term Chinese visa valid till 2025, and in his personal diary, there were names of some members of the Chinese United Front Work Department. He had been visiting India since 2007. He had made 15 visits, even contacted defence officials,” police sources said.

On October 31, Chopra reached Delhi via Hong Kong. Police sources claimed he was received at the airport by a retired officer who had worked with the ARC while on deputation. Chopra had helped his sons find jobs in the US and Canada, sources said.

Police investigations, sources said, found that Chopra was detained at the Manekshaw Centre while he taking notes during a India-China strategy programme. He had also tried to pass himself off as a Colonel, police sources claimed, adding that the military intelligence was called.

“Local police were informed and he was taken to Delhi Cantonment police station where he was questioned. They found he had USD 30,000 in cash and some gold jewellery. Four mobiles were recovered. It was found he had been in constant touch with a China-based individual through a social media messenger app and had deleted a number of messages,” an officer said. His lawyer, however, said the strategy-related books that Chopra was accused of having stolen were all available online. His family said he was a card-holding member of the Manekshaw Centre, but had forgotten to carry the card the day he was held.