Two senior executives of Zee were arrested yesterday on charges of extortion and criminal conspiracy. They will spend the next two days in police custody, the court said. The police told the court that Subhash Chandra, Chairman of Zee News, and Punit Goenka, MD of the channel, were complicit in the plans to blackmail Mr Jindal. He was told to spend 100 crores in advertising if he wanted the channel to bury negative reports on his firm, Jindal Steel and Power.
The court, however, dismissed charges of cheating against the Zee editors. The police had added Section 420 in the FIR this morning, but failed to convince the court.
"In the opinion of this court the allegations do not fulfill the ingredients of the offense of section of 420 as the offense of cheating requires fulfillment of certain ingredients such as deception of any person, fraudulently and dishonestly inducing that person to deliver any property to any person. Since the element of deception is not made out, offense under section 420 cannot be said to be committed by the accused," the court order said.
The two arrested Zee editors - Sudhir Chaudhary, head of Zee News, and Samir Ahluwalia, head of Zee Business - met with Mr Jindal's representatives a few times at a Delhi five-star hotel in September.
His executives secretly taped three of the four meetings. The police said today that while some footage being examined originates from security cameras at the five-star hotel where both sides met, other recordings were made with hidden cameras placed by Mr Jindal's executives in their watches or buttons. Phone conversations were also taped.
Zee has denied the charges against its officials and has described the arrests of its senior editors as an attack on the freedom of the press by the Congress-led government. The channel alleges Jindal Steel and Power Limited tried to bribe its executives into dropping stories on the company. (Watch: Government trying to gag media, says Zee CEO Alok Agarwal)
A forensic lab has confirmed that the footage submitted by Mr Jindal's firms is not doctored.
In September, Zee aired a couple of reports on Jindal Steel and Power in which it alleged that the firm was one of many favoured by the government while allocating valuable coal fields. The government's auditor, CAG, has said the process lacked transparency and allowed windfall profits to private firms. Zee cited that report in its stories on Mr Jindal's firm, but misreported CAG's findings, according to the police.
The police says that while the channel was negotiating with Mr Jindal's firm, it dropped the contentious stories, but began airing them in heavy rotation when it became clear that the "ransom" would not be paid.