“Time is not a factor. An old tweet becomes new just by a retweet. Police action is contingent upon when police takes cognisance of an issue,” KPS Malhotra, deputy commissioner of Delhi police, told the news agency ANI after the cyber crimes division he heads arrested Alt News cofounder Muhammad Zubair on Monday.
Zubair’s arrest is under a cloud of suspicion, drawing from several press bodies, including the Editors Guild and the Press Club of India. The journalist was called for questioning in a 2020 case in which he has protection from arrest from the Delhi high court, only to be held for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity through a , which an anonymous tweeter apparently found offensive.
Zubair’s is the latest high-profile case to be investigated by Malhotra, who was chosen to lead the cyber cell – officially Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations – last September after a controversial stint with the Narcotics Control Bureau. In fact, it was his team which arrested actor and grilled Bollywood celebrities in Mumbai in what turned out to be a failed attempt to explore a drug angle to Sushant Singh Rajput’s death – a case entrusted to him by none other than then the bureau’s chief and now Delhi police commissioner Rakesh Asthana.
Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik, who is now in jail in connection with an Enforcement Directorate probe into alleged linked to Dawood Ibrahim, had even alleged that Malhotra and the narcotics bureau’s zonal director Sameer Wankhede tried to extort money from Bollywood actors at the bidding of Asthana, a controversial Gujarat cadre IPS officer who previously led the investigations into the , the and the .
From NCB, Malhotra was transferred to the Delhi police economic offences wing as an additional DCP in July last year. And after Asthana was appointed Delhi’s police commissioner in August, Malhotra was promoted – he became the head of the cyber cell a month later.
While the Bollywood drug investigation sent a section of the media in tizzy, it was, however, another psychotropic case that won Malhotra an award for excellent investigation by the home ministry last year – his NCB team had in the country.
As the cyber cell head in Delhi, Malhotra led the investigation into the case, involving the circulation on social media of pictures of nearly 100 prominent Muslim women on January 1 this year. A day after the case was transferred to the cyber cell, police arrested the prime accused Neeraj Bishnoi – who has since been granted bail – from Jorhat in Assam.
The cyber cell is also investigating hate speech cases against suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, journalist Saba Naqvi, and extremist Hindu priest Yati Narsinghanand, among others.
Pat on the back
Under the leadership of Malhotra, who joined the police in 2009, the cyber cell claims to have made several breakthroughs against new-age crimes in India. They busted the first dark web narcotics operation – in which drugs were being shipped abroad in the garb of sex stimulation medicines – in 2020, the in Dehradun in 2018, and allegedly involving the transfer of Rs 4.5 crore in cryptocurrency to the Palestinian armed group Hamas this year.
Before serving in the NCB in Maharashtra, Malhotra was part of the Delhi police crime branch team that probed the 2015 linked to a classified leak at the ministry of petroleum and natural gas. He also led the team that busted an Economically Weaker Section quota in Delhi schools the same year.
Last year, he received the union home minister's Medal for Excellence in Investigation for the darknet bust and for helping an prove their innocence after they were framed in a drug case in Qatar.
Update on July 1: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Rajput as Sinha.
Newslaundry Events: From The Media Rumble to NL Chats and webinars, updates and details on latest Newslaundry events