UK exec at Saudi Aramco gets jail time for using sat phone in India

UK executive at Saudi Aramco gets jail time alongside ‘very serious’ criminals for using a satellite phone in India

  •  Fergus MacLeod was arrested in the Valley of Flowers National Park, India 
  • The Saudi Aramco exec had been found a satellite phone – illegal in the country
  • The 62-year-old oil boss spent a week detained in a prison in Chamoli 
  • Satellite phones were banned after being used in the Mumbai attacks in 2008

A British executive for the oil company Saudi Aramco spent a week locked up in an Indian jail alongside some ‘very serious’ criminals after he visited the country for a yoga retreat.

Fergus MacLeod, head of investor relations for the world’s largest oil exporter, was arrested at a hotel at a UNESCO heritage site called Valley of Flowers National Park in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

The arrest came after he was found with a satellite phone. It is illegal for foreign nations to use satellite phones when they are in India. The phone type was banned after terrorists used them in the 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed 175 people.

Fergus MacLeod (pictured), head of investor relations at Saudi Aramco, was detained after he was found with a satellite phone while on holiday in Valley of Flowers National Park. Satellite phones are illegal for foreigners to use in India 

Anyone not from India needs to ask permission of the Government to use the special type of phone which uses satellites to pick up signals rather than terrestrial towers.

Mr MacLeod, 62, was arrested on July 12 and was detained in prison in the town Chamoli until July 18. The executive, who had been on holiday with friends, including some colleagues from Saudi Aramco, said he was treated well throughout the ordeal.

Officers detained Mr MacLeod after he had turned on and off the satellite phone in his hotel room but claimed he did not use it.

Authorities were then able to pick up the phone’s coordinates before arresting him.

Mr MacLeod, who has led investor relations at the oil company giant since 2017, told the Financial Times he had been unaware of the ban.

He also said he successfully passed through two airports in the country without being stopped by security staff. He claims he bought the phone legally in the UK in 2017 for personal use.

He later used it when travelling through the Saudi Arabian desert in case of emergencies.

The Saudi Aramco boss had been on a yoga retreat UNESCO heritage site called Valley of Flowers National Park in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Stock of image of an adult meditating 

Mr MacLeod added that even though he was treated well by lawyers during the detention period, his request to seek legal counsel was rejected. He was also unable to contact family.

He said: ‘It was a frightening place and a highly traumatic experience, where I was in a communal cell with long-term prisoners who had committed very serious crimes.’

A police officer in Chamoli, Narendra Singh Rawat, confirmed to the FT that Mr MacLeod had been arrested and had carried the satellite phone ‘by mistake’.

While in the prison, he tried to get in contact on a Foreign Office Helpline, adding that while the Government department was ‘sympathetic’ no ‘meaningful action’ had been taken.

Satellite phones (pictured left) use satellites to pick up signals rather than terrestrial towers. The Indian Government made it illegal for foreign nationals to use the phones in the country after they were used in the deadly Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008 (pictured right)

The oil exec was eventually released after his friends paid his bail. Despite this he could leave the country until after a court hearing at the end of the month on July 27 where he pleaded guilty and settled the fine of just $12, or Rs1,000.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it ‘provided consular support to a British man in India’ but did not add any further details.

Mr MacLeod is one of the most senior western executives at Aramco, which is based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The Oxford University PPE graduate joined the company and moved to Saudi Arabia in 2017, a few years before the oil company became one of the most valuable companies in the world, just behind tech company Apple.

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