Latest in Karnataka phone-tapping: Actor Sumalatha on list

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Actor Sumalatha Ambarish had won the Mandya seat in the Lok Sabha elections, defeating then Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy's son Nikhil. (Facebook/Sumalatha Ambarish)

Records have revealed that Sumalatha Ambarish, the well-known actor who defeated the then Karnataka chief minister H D Kumaraswamy’s film-star son Nikhil Kumaraswamy in the Lok Sabha polls in April, was among those whose phones were allegedly tapped illegally during that period by Bengaluru Police, sources told The Indian Express.

Investigations show that Sumalatha, who won the Mandya seat against great odds, and a group of her supporters — actors Darshan and Yash, local political leaders and their associates — were among those whose calls were intercepted by clubbing them with persons being investigated for crimes like sandalwood smuggling and betting, sources said. Read in Malayalam

“The widespread phone-tapping of those in the Sumalatha group seems to have occurred since there were concerns in the (Congress-JDS) administration on which way the elections would turn,” sources said.

The calls of Nirmalananda Swami, a prominent seer of the Vokkaliga community that dominates the Mandya constituency, were also illegally intercepted in a similar manner as part of a larger political strategy to gain an upper hand over the Sumalatha group, it has emerged.

In August, the new BJP state government had ordered a full-fledged CBI investigation after a preliminary probe by Bengaluru Police revealed that largescale illegal tapping had allegedly occurred during the tenure of the previous JD(S)-Congress coalition government.

During campaigning in March, audio clips of phone conversations of members in her camp were released in the public domain, and Sumalatha had complained to the Election Commission that she was being placed under telephone surveillance. “We suspected that our phones were being tapped at the time of the elections but who and how it was happening was not clear to us. The CBI probe should bring out the facts,’’ Sumalatha had said at the time.

“I stated during the campaign itself that the government machinery was being misused. If it has been done, it is definitely something wrong. We have to see what happens,’’ she had said.

Sumalatha is the wife of M H Ambarish, the former film star turned Congress and JD(S) mass leader from Mandya. She defeated CM Kumaraswamy’s son with the support of Congress rebels and the BJP.

Kumaraswamy has denied links to the alleged illegal tapping of phones by the Bengaluru police during his tenure. “Phone tapping has occurred during the tenure of every chief minister. Let them investigate me if they want. There are no worries,” he said after the scandal emerged in public.

While a regular investigation into a major red sanders smuggling gang was used as a cover to carry out much of the surveillance against political persons in the period of the Lok Sabha polls, probes into cricket betting and other illegal rackets were also used as a cover to snoop, sources said.

The CBI has quizzed several police officers linked to a technical cell of Bengaluru Police — and former police chief Alok Kumar — over the last few weeks to obtain statements on the extent of phone tapping done in an “unauthorized, illegal, unwanted manner”.

The CBI has also conducted searches at the home of Kumar, as much of the alleged phone-tapping allegedly occurred during his tenure in Bengaluru as commissioner and additional commissioner (crime). Kumar has also been linked to the alleged leak of an intercepted phone conversation in August that blew the lid on the episode.

Sources said Kumar had authority under the Indian Telegraph Act 1885, read with Rule 419A of Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules 2007, to order phone-tapping for short periods without official permission. “It has come to the notice of the government that there are apprehensions that phones of several ruling and opposition political leaders, their relatives and other government officials, have been intercepted in an illegal/unauthorized/unwanted manner,” the Karnataka government said in its order to transfer the case to the CBI.

Earlier, an FIR was registered at the Bengaluru City cyber crime police station by the crime branch regarding the alleged phone-tapping under section 72 of the IT Act 2000, for breach of confidentiality and privacy, and section 26 of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885, for illegal tapping of phones without proper authorisation or divulging of tapped information.