File photo of so-called Khalistan flags flying outside Indian High Commission in London

New Delhi: German prosecutors will present evidence that a Frankfurt man scheduled for trial in a Federal state-security court in August received payoffs from India’s Research and Analysis Wing for spying on Khalistan and Kashmiri secessionists, as well as other sensitive details of the intelligence service’s operations in that country, highly-placed diplomatic sources have told Network18.

The upcoming trial of German resident Balvir Singh — scheduled for August 25, according to German government documents — is the third recent case involving RAW assets in that country, and comes in the wake of similar prosecutions in Canada and the United Arab Emirates.

Even though Germany and India have sought to contain potential damage to their diplomatic relationship from the case, diplomatic sources said, strains have begun to mount as foreign intelligence services have pushed back against India’s secret war on Khalistan terror cells across Europe and Canada.

Balvir Singh’s case, diplomatic sources said, centres around a senior RAW officer, recruited into the organisation from the Indian Revenue Service and operating out of India’s consulate in Frankfurt. The officer was asked to leave Germany after serving for less at the station for just six months, on charges of engaging activities incompatible with his status as a diplomat — the language Foreign Ministries use to describe espionage.

Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz or BfV, had targeted the officer’s activities in Frankfurt for surveillance following complaints emanating from pro-Khalistan groups that RAW operations were violating the country’s laws. German diplomat Uwe Kehm was asked to leave India in retaliation for the expulsion of the RAW officer, diplomatic sources said.

RAW’s Frankfurt office was among other things engaged, intelligence sources said, in seeking information on Gurdev Singh Bagga, a German resident alleged by India to have been involved in last year’s deliveries of weapons and ammunition from Pakistan into Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, using Global Positioning System-fitted drones.

“Like Bagga”, a senior Punjab Police officer told Network18, “there are many pro-Khalistan Sikhs earlier based in Pakistan who have been given asylum in Germany. We are frustrated not just by misguided European policies which give residence rights to terrorists, but at the failure of their counter-terrorism services to take the operations of Khalistanis seriously”.

RAW maintains two outposts operating under diplomatic cover in Germany — the most in any European country — running from India’s embassy in Bonn, and the consulate in Frankfurt, intelligence sources say.

The operations of the Bonn intelligence station, in line with diplomatic convention, are formally disclosed to the German government. RAW’s station chief in Bonn is charged with liaising with the agency’s counterpart in that country, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND.

Even though Indian authorities have for long informally admitted the existence of the Frankfurt station — first set up to liaise with Afghan and Pakistani dissidents in Europe — the RAW officer serving there is not formally disclosed to the German government.

In 2019, a Frankfurt court gave Manmohan Singh, a journalist with a pro-Khalistan online news platform in Germany, an eighteen-suspended sentence for spying on Sikh secessionists for RAW’s Frankfurt station. Along with his wife Kamaljit Kaur, Manmohan Singh was found guilty of receiving €7,000 for information provided to RAW between 2015 and 2018.

Earlier, in 2015, a German immigration officer was prosecuted for passing on material on suspected Khalistan activists to RAW. The previous year, Ranjit Singh — who had sought asylum in Germany claiming to be an All India Sikh Students Federation activist persecuted by India — was sentenced to nine months in prison for spying for RAW.

Immigration authorities in Canada, court documents show, even denied an Indian journalist permission to join his family in that country, saying he had sought to influence politicians in that country on instructions from RAW. The immigration authorities’ determination was, however, overruled by a court in March.

Ever since 2015, Indian intelligence sources said, RAW had aggressively recruited agents inside pro-Khalistan circles across Europe and Canada, seeking to target increasingly active cells providing finance and ideological support for secessionist terrorism in Punjab. The move ran in parallel with a separate push by Prime Minister Modi, starting from his visit to London in November, 2015, to win back Khalistan supporters living in the diaspora.

Led by now-RAW chief Samant Goel — then stationed in London—RAW’s new anti-Khalistan operations in Europe however sparked off confrontations with domestic intelligence services in those countries, who believed India was violating the conventions governing the activities of it.

Goel himself, intelligence sources said, came under pressure from authorities in the United Kingdom, who believed his operations were poaching on existing assets of that country’s own domestic intelligence service, MI5.

European laws guaranteeing privacy to citizens, a Western diplomatic source said, made it hard for their domestic counter-intelligence services to countenance some of RAW’s operations, one Western diplomatic official said. “Faced with complaints that a foreign intelligence officer is threatening the rights of residents”, he argued, “we have no option but to act”.

“Let me concede that, in some cases, we’ve been less than discreet about what we’ve been doing,” one RAW officer said. “No country will tolerate another brazenly conducting espionage on its soil. But the flip side of the story is also important, which is that Western intelligence services have been notoriously lax in their handling of Khalistan groups.”

In 2010, for example, damning evidence surfaced in judicial investigation that Canada’s intelligence and police services had known that plotting was underway to bomb the Air India jet downed over the Irish Sea in 1985, killing 329 people — but failed to act, because of a toxic mix of racism and misjudgement.

“This problem wouldn’t exist if Western governments weren’t giving asylum to religious terrorists in the first place,” the officer said.

Even though the overall diplomatic relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chancellor Angela Merkel has been robust — Bonn, notably, pushed back against China’s efforts to debate Kashmir in the United Nations Security Council, and declared that the termination of Kashmir’s special status was India’s internal matter —signs have begun to emerge of strains in the relationship.

Germany’s embassy in New Delhi had in March announced it was donating ₹1.2 million to a campaign by former Indian Administrative Service officer Harsh Mander — a vocal critic of the Prime Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Both Germany’s Embassy in New Delhi and the Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to requests from Network18 for comment on the donation.

The donation came months after India invited members of the Alternative für Deutschland, a far-right political party hostile to Chancellor Merkel, to visit Kashmir in the wake of the revocation of Article 370.