When the nauseating sky over Purulia started vomiting guns during the night of December 17, 1995, no one knew that it would be theorised as the most devastating conspiracy of this nation. Budhaditya Bhattacharjee writes a holistic & investigative story with the latest developments.
During the night of December 17, 1995, a Russian cargo plane was carrying five Latvian crew members along with an Englishman and a Danish man. The plane, Antonov An-26, was carrying a trove of weapons and it was flying over the small district of Purulia. Hundreds of AK-47 rifles, hand grenades, rocket launchers and more than a million rounds of ammunition were dropped over a large area in Jhalda, Ghatanga, Belamu, Maramu villages of Purulia district. Englishman Peter Bleach and Danish citizen Niels Holck, alias Kim Davy – were on their verge of becoming the two most infamous men in the entire incident.
The event became demarcated as the most significant security breach of the nation. However, as information started coming up, the idea of an intentional breach emerged from the depths of depravity. Most significantly, it was alleged that a full-proof plan was intentionally demolished as the aircraft was force-landed and the Englishman was arrested. However, Kim Davy escaped without a trace until he showed up in Copenhagen. Bleach was imprisoned along with the three Latvians. Bleach, who was a former British intelligence official, was kept imprisoned in the harshest of conditions. Bleach was given a life sentence without ever being proved guilty.
Russian president Vladimir Putin visited India and gave the government a condition. He stated that he would be signing a deal with India for the Sukhoi fighters if the Latvians were released. India did hesitate to accept the condition.
In 2004, after recurring trials by Bleach to make people hear his story through the news, the Indian government decided to let him go. Davy and Bleach, later opened up in a Danish documentary film, about the arms drop, titled The Arms Drop. There have been substantial assumptions as to the reason and modality of the operation.
Davy & Bleach’s Version
After the entire incident came into limelight, it was deliberated that the arms were meant for the socio-spiritual cult Ananda Marg. The Purulia-based cult had earlier emerged in news after 16 monks and a nun belonging to Ananda Marg were burned and killed at Bijon Setu, near Ballygunge. The members of the Ananda Marg were beaten to death and then set on fire. Ananda Marg blamed the attack on the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This incident took place in 1982, and since then it was somewhat considered that the cult would retaliate somehow and foreign powers were helping them to be empowered.
In 1997, an Indian court concluded that the Ananda Marg cult was actually the projected receiver of the guns and ammunition. The pilot’s testimony was taken into consideration, so was other evidence such as a photograph of the Ananda Marg headquarters on the aircraft. The judge stated that according to the available materials he would settle for the Ananda Marg as the recipient. “I hold that it has been established from the materials on record that the places where the arms were targeted to be dropped were of Ananda Marg and precisely three-storied white building was the target point and at that target point the arms were tried to be dropped from a flying aircraft and the aircraft has been pinpointed as per the evidence and materials on record,” the judge noted.
But the court’s declaration was incessantly disputed by the chief accused Kim Davy. As time has progressed the inferences have led to murkier areas of governance.
Davy claimed that the central government of India itself was behind the arms drop to upset harmony and annihilate the CPI(M) supporters. He alleged that it was a conspiracy formulated by the Congress Indian government together with RAW and MI5 in order to depose the communist government in West Bengal. Moreover, he claimed that he was guaranteed by the central government that he would be untouched and would return to Denmark. He also alleged that MP Pappu Yadav, in association with the then Prime Minister of India P. V. Narasimha Rao, aided his safe exit from India.
In an explosive interview on an Indian television news channel, Davy stated that “the arms were meant for self-protection.”
“It is my complete conviction that if I was tried in a court of law about the legality of dropping arms to protect people against state-sponsored Communist terror, I would clear my name because it was legal defence against decades of murder, torture, rape by the CPI(M) in West Bengal,” Davy stated. “I have seen friends being butchered in front of my eyes for so many years and all I did was to work for the betterment of the rural people of West Bengal. For 15 years, I worked to better the circumstances of the poorest of the poor in West Bengal, but the atrocities committed by the Communist simply became too much when too many friends were tortured to death so we had to defend ourselves against these attacks and that was the whole background of the Purulia arms drop.”
He also stated that RAW knew about the operation days before it took place and the government itself allowed it to arm the innocent people of that area.
Peter Bleach, who was convicted in Calcutta, stated that days before the operation he communicated the plans to his contacts at the MI5. Bleach was the arms contractor for the operation and he was asked by the MI5 to carry on with the mission. He was also told that the Indian government knew and they would stop the plane. Bleach was convinced by the British intelligence that everything had been taken care of. However, after his arrest, the MI5 officials denied his to recognise him. The question which comes up here is that whether Bleach was the patsy or the fall-guy like Harvey Oswald.
Many could ask if it was actually possible for the central to implement a Presidential rule in the state of West Bengal while attempting to dethrone the CPI(M) government. Here’s what Davy stated: “I am saying that there were political forces in the centre in Delhi who saw it as an opportune way to further their political agenda. You must remember that we are talking ancient history here, but in 1988 centre introduced a Presidential rule in Tripura after engaging in supplying arms to different rebel groups there. The same strategy was announced publicly at the beginning of the 90’s that there was a decision to introduce a Presidential rule in West Bengal and therefore it was seen as a furthering of this agenda that arms were procured to protect local people.”
Ananda Marg’s Version
I contacted the Ananda Marg centre at Purulia, through email. In reply, they told me to contact the Calcutta branch of the organisation.
The acting general secretary of the cult, Acharya Swaroopananda Avadhut, inherently denied any association between the Ananda Marg and Kim Davy. Davy had earlier admitted that he had worked with the cult.
“It is not at all true that he was our member. Ours is such a big organisation. Anyone can come and go for the purpose of practising yoga or meditation. That doesn’t mean he is a member. I might have heard his name but I can’t remember anything about him. His name doesn’t exist in our official records,” he stated. “Not a stick was recovered by the police when they raided our campus in Purulia after the arms were dropped. Eventually, the court dismissed the charges against us. Even Peter Bleach didn’t utter a word against us.”
Peter Hæstrup – A Ghost Story
Chandan Nandy, an investigative journalist, wrote a book on the arms drop. The Night It Rained Guns, the book, tried to enunciate that the mission was a botched-CIA manufactured covert operation.
“I would only say that the Purulia arms drop was a covert CIA operation that went horribly wrong. It had all the hallmarks of a black op – hugely circuitous, the actors spread over at least 14 countries, the fast and easy transfer of massive sums of money through Swiss bank accounts, and behind-the-scenes shadowy activities of foreign intelligence and paramilitary men. In other words, there was complete deniability,” Nandy wrote.
Here enters a man named Peter Hæstrup. Hæstrup, who now claims to be a ‘private banker’ and is now based outside Copenhagen, lived in England for many years. Earlier in his career, he was involved in the Purulia Arms Drop. Hæstrup’s name came up in a CBI probe into the arms drop, but he was never charged. When the same television channel investigated the case, Hæstrup gave them a telephonic interview. During the interview, he stated that he was the mastermind behind the arms drop. Although he was not inside the aircraft, he was the decision maker but the people inside the cargo disobeyed his orders and thus the mission failed.
Most importantly, Hæstrup is somewhat like a ghost. His house in Copenhagen falls in the area where most of the government officials of Denmark live. Neither the press nor the Danish law enforcement possesses any identification proof or photographs of the man.
“If I had done anything wrong, the police would have come for me. I was working on the right side that time. When you were working in the intelligence service you have to be on the right side,” he said on the phone.
Living like a ghost in a major city like Copenhagen is quite extraordinary, but it isn’t possible without training. One can completely stay unscathed if one bears the skills of spy tradecraft. In 2013, Hæstrup along with one Richard Cook set up Five Star Management. Hæstrup stated that it was a wealth management company with a focus on the Middle East. The business concluded in 2014. Three-quarters of the business was owned by the now late Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz, a former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, father to the Saudi Ambassador to the UK and a close adviser to the Saudi King.
Currently, Hæstrup has projected himself as “private banker”. He has a GooglePlus account which states that he is based in Hong Kong, Monte Carlo, and London. There are no photographs of Hæstrup on social media. On LinkedIn, he describes himself as CEO of the Obsideone group. This firm no longer appears online, but one can search the internet archive and discover that it was a company skilled in “introductions” for “high net worth individuals” and which promoted itself on the basis of its “discretion.”
Interview with Andreas Koefoed
While I was working for a tabloid, I had the chance to talk to director Andreas Koefoed who made The Arms Drop – the 2014 documentary film which was banned in India. Many stated that the film showed Davy and Bleach in a sympathetic light. However, the film ponders upon questions which our government doesn’t want to answer. Most importantly, the documentary shows the perspective which was absolutely unknown to Indian citizens and the rest of the world.
During the interview, I asked Koefoed about Hæstrup. This is what he said: “I know about Hæstrup and I am sure he is telling the truth. I think there are strong indications that
Danish, British and Indian intelligence services knew about the arms deal before it took place and let it happen for a political purpose. The Danish intelligence would never admit it and are fighting against that version of the story and that makes it hard to prove.”
“[The film was banned in India], I guess it is because it is a controversial story that shows a less flattering side of India,” he stated.
He also talked about the Interpol investigation into the arms drop. “The biggest achievement was maybe that Christer Brännerud, who worked for Interpol, confirmed that there were political forces who tried to stop him from investigating the case,” he stated about the Interpol.
On June 9, 2017, UK Prime Minister Theresa May failed to form a Conservative Party government in the UK. She announced that she would like to form a government with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The DUP is reported to have been involved in some questionable dealings. One of these dealings had an Indian connection and it was the arms drop incident. Arlene Foster’s party allegedly received 4,25,000 pounds from a vague donor group, Constitutional Research Council (CRC), for pro-Brexit advertising.
The chairman of the CRC is the Scottish Conservative party leader Richard Cook. This is the same Richard Cook who started the Five Star Management with Hæstrup.
It has been six years since the Danish court refused to allow Kim Davy’s extradition. However, currently, Indian officials are hopeful of getting him in custody as the Denmark government is responding “most positively” to a fresh extradition appeal.
The Denmark government has inquired about the details of the place where Davy if extradited, would be kept in.
“This is the first time when this extradition issue has taken a positive turn,” said a senior official at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). “Two point clarifications were demanded by the Denmark government. This is mostly about the place of custody.”
Was Hæstrup a CIA covert operative like Valerie Plame? Was Bleach intentionally unrecognised by his own handlers to avoid sham and create a patsy? Will Davy, if extradited, speak up about the people particularly involved in the arms drop?
Budhaditya Bhattacharjee is a journalist and writer from Calcutta. He is the founder and chief-editor of The Leaky Pot. He writes and directs short and documentary films. Two of his short stories – “Beneath” and “Phenome” was published in two national anthologies, by Half Baked Beans and India Author, respectively. His literary interests revolve around death, nihilism, scientific and psychological aberration, and mystery. He works as an independent journalist and as a creative writer in an advertising agency.