Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
A videotaped exposť of corruption in military deals that shook the government in March took a dramatic turn on Wednesday when it was revealed that three defence officers it implicated were supplied prostitutes.
Tehelka.com, which carried out a sting operation using hidden video cameras, according to a newspaper report, even taped the sex act.
The tapes have been given to the army's court of inquiry and the Venkataswami Commission, which is inquiring into allegations of corruption in defence deals.
The disclosure comes five months after Tehelka publicised secret videotapes of top politicians, bureaucrats and military officials accepting bribes from its two reporters, who posed as arms agents, to swing 'deals'.
The revelation of the use of flesh to 'bribe' defence officials has come at the time when the the Parliament is on and government is under flak because of the UTI crisis, the violence in Kashmir and the economic slowdown.
BJP and Samata party, predictably, raised the ethical side of the use of prostitutes in pursuit of a story.
Samta party general secretary and party spokesman Shambhu Shrivastava said, "We were aware of these tapes but we didn't raise the issue because it would have had a demoralising effect on our soldiers. Imagine what our soldier would think about his brigadier?"
Slamming Tehelka Shrivastava said, "This is not journalism. We always maintained that they were pretenders playing into hands of anti-national forces."
"The use of prostitutes have raised grave issues and we want stringent action to be taken against these blackmailers who were masquerading as journalists," added Shrivastava
While confirming the report, Tarun Tejpal, Tehelka's CEO told rediff.com, "We didn't exploit the tapes by showing it to the public. Also, we didn't hide it. We didn't suppress it. We gave those tapes to the commission. Everyone knew it. We don't regret it. The bottom-line was that we wanted to expose corruption at the highest level."
According to Tejpal some of the scenes of 'sex act' were shown in the first screening of the tapes to the media on March 13, 2001.
Tejpal said his secret camera filmed at least one officer having sex with a prostitute at a luxury hotel in Delhi.
Besides, the Tehelka reporters also provided condoms and negotiated with the prostitutes the kind of sexual gratification the officers wanted, he said.
The transcript submitted to the Venkataswami commission said the first incident occurred in September last year.
After two prostitutes reached the hotel room the Tehelka representative left. Shortly thereafter, a defence official and a prostitute also left the room. Another officer stayed back with the other prostitute. A secret camera left in the room filmed them having sex.
In November, Tehelka's reporters returned to the hotel with a third officer and a prostitute. The transcript said the official did not have sex saying he was 'not mentally prepared'.
Aniruddh Bahal, a journalist who did the actual investigation told rediff.com, "When the demand came from armymen (to have prostitutes) we were foxed. We resisted it. We were baffled. But the demand was so forceful we could not proceed further without catering to their demand."
Bahal said they provided 'sex' to show that armymen were ready to go any level.
Tehelka journalists claimed that they had provided these unedited tapes to army's court of inquiry.
When asked about the ethical issue of using a woman's body to get a good story, Bahal said, "We were uncomfortable doing it. But a story like Operation West End has peculiar demands. It could travel into grey areas. There were no hard and fast rules. We couldn't have gone by traditional media conventions."
When asked about the identity of the prostitutes Bahal refused to answer.
Samata party leader George Fernandes, who was the defence minister, and his party chief Jaya Jaitly had to resign in wake of Tehelka's exposure.
(With inputs from agencies)
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