Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, to get top government security

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI, April 22 Mon Apr 22, 2013 5:12am EDT

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI, April 22 (Reuters) - The Indian government has agreed to provide billionaire Mukesh Ambani with top-level security cover following threats to his life, an interior ministry spokesman said on Monday.

The country's richest man, who controls the Reliance Industries Ltd conglomerate, personally requested the "Z Category" security that is usually reserved for politicians and top-level civil servants.

The government has not yet decided whether Ambani will pay the government for the services, and how many policemen will guard the billionaire, Home Ministry spokesman H. Rahman said.

A source familiar with the issue, who declined to be named, said Ambani may pay the government up to 900,000 rupees ($16,600) a month for protection by armed commandos.

Ambani received a handwritten letter about two months ago that threatened an attack at his $1 billion Mumbai residence. He added that the Islamist group Indian Mujahideen was suspected of sending the letter, but investigations were still under way.

Social media websites were abuzz with criticism of the move, with many questioning why highly trained commandos should protect a private citizen.

Among them was Arvind Kejriwal, an anti-graft activist, who told Reuters: "He is such a rich man. He can hire the best security agencies. Why does the government need to provide him with security?"

"None of the political parties is opposing this move. This clearly shows Mukesh Ambani is in the good books of all political parties," Kejriwal added.

Reliance already provides protection for Ambani, whose personal worth Forbes magazine has put at $21.5 billion, the source said. However, the company lacks government intelligence and, by law, private security guards are not allowed to carry sophisticated weapons.

Under "Z Category" cover, Ambani will have 22 security guards, an escort and a pilot car, an arrangement similar to that provided for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, news network NDTV said. ($1 = 54.0750 Indian rupees) (Editing by John Chalmers and Ken Wills)