THE 16 sealed Tehelka tapes containing allegations of corruption in defence deals have been sent to the United Kingdom for forensic examination. The video tapes, which were released by the news portal tehelka.com on March 13, 2001, contain footage of former Bharatiya Janata Party president Bangaru Laxman, Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitly and several army officials receiving money from Tehelka reporters disguised as arms dealers (Frontline, April 13, 2001). The decision to send the controversial tapes to forensic experts experts in the U.K. was taken by the Justice S.N. Phukan Commission on May 28. The tapes were sent in sealed packets with notes indicating the portions that have allegedly been tampered with. Keeping the security of the tapes in mind, the Commission refused to identify the experts to whom they were sent.
The question of the veracity of the tapes has dominated the investigations by the Commission. Said a defence lawyer: "If the tapes are found to be tampered with, then the entire case against Bangaru Laxman, Jaya Jaitly and others will fall flat on its face".
The Justice K. Venkataswami Commission, which has been replaced by the Phukan Commission, had gone into the question of the veracity of the tapes and found "no prima facie case about doctoring etc". The Commission said that none of the accused had questioned their presence on the tapes; their charges were related mainly to the addition and deletion of certain words.
The Venkataswami Commission had come to these conclusions after video and audio experts - Milin Kapoor and Arun Mehta, representing Jaya Jaitly, and Umashankar and Pradip Krishen, representing Tehelka - made multiple presentations before the Commission on the section that had allegedly been tampered with. Milin Kapoor and Arun Mehta demonstrated how words had been interpolated or deleted, and videos spliced, and pointed out gaps where the video was not backed by audio in the tapes. Counsel for Tehelka had argued that the mere possibility of tampering with the tapes did not, by itself, constitute a case for questioning their veracity. Also, no motive has been made out or even suggested. After hearing both sides - Tehelka and defence's experts - the Venkataswami Commission ordered that there was no reason to send the tapes to outside experts.Naunidhi Kaur