The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has refuted a report by a US digital forensics firm suggesting that certain incriminating materials were allegedly planted into the laptop of one of the prime accused in the Koregaon-Bhima case.

The NIA’s denial came in an affidavit filed in the Bombay High Court, dismissing contentions by the US firm Arsenal Consulting, which had claimed that the damning material including a conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister and overthrowing the government, was planted in the laptop of the accused Rona J. Wilson.

The affidavit came in response to Wilson’s plea in February, seeking setting up of a Special Investigation Team comprising retired Supreme Court or High Court judges, legal and digital experts, to probe the alleged planting of fake documents in his laptop over a 22-month period, a stay on the proceedings against him and his immediate release.

However, the NIA has contended that Wilson’s plea was not maintainable, and the Arsenal Consulting had “no locus standi to give such opinion” without the court’s permission when the trial against Wilson and 15 other activists, academicians, Dalits, etc, was still pending.

Besides Wilson, another 15 persons were arrested in countrywide swoops in 2018, including P. Varavara Rao, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaichor, Shona Sen, Arun Ferreira, Sagar Gorkhe, Mahesh Raut, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Fr. Stan Swamy and Hany Babu, facing charges under the dreaded UAPA Act.

Hitting back at the Wilson, the NIA said in the affidavit that it was for Wilson to explain how his laptop was allegedly hacked to ‘plant 10 letters’ when it was in his possession (from June 13, 2016 onwards) and so he could not blame the probe agencies which entered the picture only much later.

Terming his allegations as ‘vague’, not giving the names of the alleged cyber-hackers, the NIA argued that Wilson’s contentions were based on Arsenal Consulting’s report which is not a part of the chargesheet, and hence his plea should be dismissed.

After hearing Wilson’s plea, a division bench of Justice S.S. Shinde and Justice Manish Pitale had directed the NIA to file its reply by April 29 and now the matter will come up for further hearing on May 4.

In mid-Feb, Arsenal Consulting’s report claiming that a malware attack had taken place on Wilson’s laptop in June 2016 had created a sensation.

Among other things, the report said that Wilson’s laptop was under surveillance and 52 documents (of which 10 were probed by the US firm) were delivered in a hidden folder, including one a day before his arrest on April 17, 2018.

The NIA has pleaded that the court should not consider Arsenal Consulting’s report which it (NIA) has not accepted, though the trial court could look into it at the relevant stage later.

Instead, the NIA stated an alternative remedy that Wilson could move the trial court for discharge instead of seeking quashing of the charge-sheet against him.

Arsenal Consulting had prepared its report after Wilson’s lawyers requested help of American Bar Association (ABA) to conduct an independent forensic analysis of the clone copy of electronic copies given to him after the NIA chargesheet was filed.