As CBI Infighting Moves To Court, Here’s What Has Happened In Last 36 Hours
Recent developments in the CBI drama have made the issue more attractive for the opposition and ‘activists’, who are now using it as a stick to beat the government.
The drama that was unfolding at the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI’s) office a few days ago has now reached media war rooms via the corridors of the South Block. The government’s decision to intervene and send packing the number one and two in the agency’s command - Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana, respectively - has done little to put the conflict to rest. In fact, it seems to have made the issue more attractive for the opposition and ‘activists’, who are now using it as a stick to beat the government.
The Congress has accused the government of sacking Verma, the director of the agency, for initiating a probe in what the party said was a “scam” in the Rafale deal. It has called the move "illegal and unconstitutional". Congress spokesperson and close aid of its president Rahul Gandhi, Randeep Surjewala, said the move was the “last nail” into the independence of CBI and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “systematic dismantling and denigrating of CBI”.
Swaraj India’s Prashant Bhushan, who had once opposed the appointment of Verma as the director of the CBI, has said that he will challenge the government’s decision. Along with former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, he has accused the government of "criminal misconduct". The three have moved the Supreme Court on the issue. The apex court has said that it would consider according urgent hearing to a PIL seeking court-monitored probe into allegations of corruption against various CBI officials, including Rakesh Asthan.
On 4 October, Bhushan and Shourie had met Verma and submitted a complaint against the Rafale deal. The duo has been criticised for demanding a probe by “handpicked officers”. The complaint against the deal, Bhushan has said, makes “a strong case for not just investigation, but prosecution”.
Verma too has moved the top court, challenging the Centre's decision to divest him of powers and send him on leave. He has also challenged the decision to appoint Joint Director M Nageshwar Rao as head of the probe agency.
The CVC, however, has come out with a spoiler for Verma. It has said that the CBI director was willfully blocking investigations. It has accused him of being non-cooperative with the Commission, non-compliant with the requirements and directions of the Commission and has created willful obstructions in the functioning of the Commission which is a Constitutional body.
An eight-page order by Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) on the spat between CBI chief Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana says it had written to Verma on October 15 asking him to take prior approval of competent authority before proceeding with FIR against Asthana
Meanwhile, at least four men were arrested outside Verma’s home in Delhi in the morning. Verma's security personnel were seen dragging the men inside the building. Some unconfirmed reports have suggested that the men belong to the Intelligence Bureau and were keeping an eye on Verma’s activity.
The Apex court will hear Verma’s plea on Friday.
The Infighting In The CBI
The fight between Verma and Asthana took an ugly turn with the agency filing an FIR against the latter, naming him as an accused in a bribery case.
In its FIR, the CBI has alleged that Asthana took a bribe of Rs 3 crore to settle a case against a Hyderabad-based businessman, Sathish Sana, whose name had come up during an investigation in the Moin Qureshi case. Moin Qureshi, an Uttar Pradesh-based meat exporter allegedly close to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, has been under the lens of various Indian agencies since 2014. He has been accused by the Enforcement Directorate of remitting funds through hawala channels to Dubai, London, and a few other destinations in Europe. Qureshi is believed to have had links with UPA-era CBI director A P Singh. Sana, reports say, is a key witness for the CBI and the ED in various cases against Qureshi.
The case against Asthana is based on a complaint filed by Sana. Other people named by Sana in the complaint include a deputy superintendent of police-rank CBI official, Devendra Kumar, middleman Manoj Prasad and his brother Somesh Prasad. Asthana was leading the investigation against Sana.
The CBI has claimed in its FIR that Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad had met Sana in Dubai and claimed that they would settle the case with him with the help of a CBI officer. After this, one of the two called an officer in the CBI, who claimed over the phone that he would settle the case for a bribe of Rs 5 crore and demanded Rs 3 crore from Sana in advance for the task. Sana was told by the duo that the officer he had spoken to was Asthana. To make him believe in the proposal, they showed him the WhatsApp display picture on the account belonging to the number they had called on.
Sana claims that he paid Rs 1 crore to Manoj Prasad at his office in Dubai and arrange payment of an amount of Rs 1.95 crore in Delhi in December 2017. Despite this, he says, he got a notice from the agency in the case in February. On raising the issue with the middlemen, he was asked to pay the remaining part of the bribe.
According to various reports, the investigating officer in the Qureshi money laundering case moved a proposal on 12 September for custodial interrogation of Sana. Asthana is said to have approved the proposal on 20 September.
“I told Manoj about this, to which he replied that this all is happening due to non-payment of balance of amount Rs 2 crore, to which I replied that the same will be made soon,” reads the statement given by Sathish Sana.
He claims that the remaining amount was paid to the middlemen in October.
In his defence, Asthana has accused CBI director Verma of instructing him not to examine Sana when he was summoned for questioning. In a letter to the cabinet secretariat, he as cited 10 instances of interference from Verma in the case.
However, according to the Economic Times, the Special Investigation Team under Asthana had managed to question Sana on 3 October. During the questioning, the daily says, Sana claims to have links with Verma through a senior Member of Parliament (MP) of Telugu Desam Party.
Manoj Prasad, one of the two middlemen, was arrested on 16 October. He has claimed that the bribes were being paid to Asthana on behalf of Qureshi. He has brought the number two of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Samant Kumar Goel, into the scene, alleging that he met Qureshi often and helped him get in touch with Asthana. The R&AW officer, however, has not been named by the CBI in the FIR.
On 19 October, three days after the CBI filed an FIR against him for allegedly taking a bribe from Sana, the case was taken away from Asthana.
To sum up, the CBI under Verma has accused Asthana of taking a bribe from Sana. Asthana, in response, has charged Verma with trying to scuttle the probe.
The tussle between Asthana and Verma is not news. The two have been at loggerheads for some time now. In July, Verma, who was in Uruguay to attend an Interpol meeting, had instructed a junior officer to inform the Chief Vigilance Commissioner that Asthana was not authorised to attend a CBI selection committee meeting, necessary to induct new officers into the CBI, in his absence. Verma had also objected to Asthana’s appointment as special director in the CBI.
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