VISAKHAPATNAM/NEW DELHI: Commander Sugunakar Pakala, one of the eight former Indian naval officers facing a death sentence in Qatar, has had an illustrious career spanning 25 years and achieved a significant milestone by crossing the equator twice on the Navy‘s sole sail ship INS Tarangini.
The 54-year-old Sugunakar’s family in Visakhapatnam and friends are shocked following the Qatari court’s sentence.They are holding onto hope for his release with theIndian government‘s intervention, particularly before his birthday on December 18. Relatives and friends are visiting his home to console his wife, son and daughter.
Sugunakar joined the Navy at 18 and worked in the Naval Engineering Corps, with service on various units and ships. He had a successful naval career that included postings in Mumbai, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Visakhapatnam, and commendations on multiple occasions. He is also known for his dedication to social service.

‘Knew Commander Pakala since he was a kid… he is a gentleman’
Sugunakar studied at Korukonda Sainik School in Vizianagaram till 1984, and then enrolled in Kendriya Vidyalaya at Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, where his father served as the principal.
“Sugunakar is innocent. I knew him from when he was a kid. He was my son Raghu’s classmate in Kendriya Vidyalaya. He is a gentleman and never indulges in any anti-social or criminal activities,” said A Krishna Brahmam.
Sugunakar holds a BTech (mechanical) degree from the Naval College of Engineering and an MSc in defence and strategic studies from Defence Services Staff College, Wellington.

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Sugunakar retired from the Navy on November 20, 2013, and later joined Al Dahra Global Technologies, which provided training and logistics support to the Qatari military. At the time of his arrest last year, Sugunakar was working as the company’s director (FCN). The case against Sugunakar and the other retired officers was first heard in Doha on March 29 this year. Subsequently, the company owned by a former Omani air force officer ceased its operations in May.
Initially, they were instructed to prepare for their return to India, but a sudden change of decision by the Qatari authorities led them to prison. Sugunakar and his colleagues were kept in solitary confinement in Qatar from August 2022.

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While the charges against them were not publicly disclosed, reports suggest they were accused of espionage.
Colleagues of the retired naval officers expressed shock over the situation, as they had waited anxiously for their release. Only two of the eight convicted employees have their families in Qatar, while the rest are in India, following the developments with apprehension.
“While the Indian government has provided consular access to the ex-officers and facilitated the families to meet them, the matter now needs urgent attention and must be escalated at a diplomatic level,” said a colleague who doesn’t wish to be named.

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Another former Navy officer and employee said: “Dahra was set up in 2015 and we were officially training the Qatari navy. The training was customised for them and their navy was extremely satisfied with the outcomes…” The company had grown to about 120 employees, 90% of whom were from the Indian Navy. “All officers imparting training were Indians and were aged between 45 and 64,” said the ex-officer.

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