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TV crew with satellite phones held in Dooars

- 22 satellite phones found with group

Jalpaiguri, Feb. 9: Three foreigners shooting a reality show in eastern India have been arrested in the Dooars for using satellite phones without the permission of Indian authorities.

According to police, 22 satellite phones were found in possession of the TV show team.

Police sources said they had not found any espionage angle in the case yet. The trio also said in court that they had made a “mistake” by not taking permission of Indian authorities to use the satellite phones.

The TV show that the group was shooting was Peking Express. The Dutch reality show that started in 2004 has several versions across Europe. In each episode of Peking Express, couples have to navigate unknown territory in a foreign country. Among the 51 foreigners in Chulsa, 85km from Siliguri, 33 were participants from Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Italy and England.

Everester Basanta Singha Roy, when asked about the importance of satellite phones in unknown terrain, said “it is an essential tool for anybody who embarks on mountaineering”, but he also stressed that it was important to take permission from authorities.

The crew told the police that the satellite phones were given to the participants of the show to track their location as cellphone connections may not have worked everywhere.

Jawed Shamim, the inspector-general of police, north Bengal, said: “A foreigner has to give a declaration to immigration officials at the airport confirming whether he or she is carrying a satellite phone. There is a specific column in the form at the immigration counter where the foreign national has to give a declaration about the gadget. In this case, the accused suppressed the fact to immigration officials that they were carrying the gadgets…. Even if a foreigner gives declaration to immigration officers, he or she has to get permission from the ministry of external affairs for using the gadget. The users failed to produce such a permission allowing them to use the gadget.”

The three — Benoit Marie Theresez Boakman of Belgium, Wadhen Kerstian from Germany and Dan Mitson who is British — have been remanded in police custody for two days and have been charged under Section 20 of the Indian Telegraph Act, according to which anyone working within India in contravention of the act may be imprisoned for up to three years. The trio have also been charged under the IPC Section 120 B (criminal conspiracy), Section 175 (omission to produce document or electronic record) and Section 177 (giving false information).

A police source said an intelligence input about a satellite phone link reached police a few days ago. While chasing the satellite phone signals, the police came to know that the phones had travelled through Assam and Myanmar. Initially, the police suspected the gadget was being used by the KLO. Surveillance was intensified because Mamata Banerjee is scheduled to visit Jalpaiguri on February 12.

Swarup Mondal, the lawyer who appeared on behalf of the arrested men, said his clients were innocent. “They did not know the rules and have apologised. The police asked for seven days’ remand. The judge granted two days’ police custody.” the lawyer said.

In an earlier case, Darjeeling police had arrested Petr Svacha, an entomologist, and Emil Kucera, a forester, on June 22, 2008, for allegedly collecting beetles from the Singalila National Park without permission. Both are Czech nationals.

Svacha was let off with a fine of Rs 20,000, and described as a “victim of circumstances”, by the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Darjeeling. Kucera was sentenced to three years imprisonment and slapped a fine of Rs 60,000. But Kucera disappeared in October 2008, when he was out on bail.

Everester Basanta Singha Roy said before one starts climbing, “he should get permission from telecom authorities to use the satellite phone. The climber should also register his name and the number of the satellite phone with the police station under which the base station is located. The security agencies generally get concerned when they receive signals from satellite phones in border areas as they suspect that some foreigners have intruded. The intelligence agencies check with the local police station to find out if anybody has sough permission to use the phone.”