New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation’s letter to the Central Vigilance Commission stating that its special director Rakesh Asthana, who is the second most senior officer in the agency, could not represent director Alok Verma in matters pertaining to “inducting officers into CBI” and that Asthana was himself “under (the) scanner” in several cases, has once again brought into sharp spotlight the Centre’s attempts to not only get in officers of questionable integrity into key posts but also use them to further alter the nature of critical organisations.
As the development pertains to an officer whose appointment was challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court by NGO Common Cause, the latest letter also evoked a strong response from senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, who had appeared for the NGO in the apex court.
Bhushan tweeted that Asthana, who is close to BJP president Amit Shah, was made a special director of the CBI despite the director’s objection as he was being investigated by the agency in the Sterling Biotech money laundering case.
Moreover, now Bhushan wrote, “Now Asthana being used to induct more corrupt officers in CBI, bypassing CBI Dir!”
Shah’s Guj officer Asthana was first made Spl Dir CBI despite CBI Dir’s objection,since Asthana was being investigated by CBI itself in Sterling Biotech money laundering case. Now Asthana being used to induct more corrupt officers in CBI,bypassing CBI Dir!https://t.co/ph7fpilB83
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) July 16, 2018
The Indian Express, in its story, had noted that the CBI letter to CVC had clearly stated that several officers who were being considered for induction in the former “were under examination by the CBI as suspects/ accused in criminal cases under investigation with the Bureau”.
It had also referred to how Asthana was himself “under (the) scanner” and how the CBI had stated that in order to “maintain organisational integrity”, he “cannot be consulted for inducting officers into CBI” in the absence of thedDirector.
The newspaper reported that CBI had conveyed its concerns through two letters sent by its policy division to the CVC, which had over phone asked it to send its second highest officer in the absence of the Director for a meeting of the CBI selection committee to be held on July 12.
The CBI had also told the CVC “in the previous CBI Selection Committee meeting, names of officers who were being considered for induction in CBI were under examination by the CBI as suspects/ accused in criminal cases under investigation with the Bureau.”
While seeking a postponement of the July 12 meeting to any date after July 19, stating that the CBI Director would be abroad, the CBI had in response to another telephone call from the CVC demanding to know who was in-charge after Asthaana sent a second letter.
In this letter, it had stated that “the charge/powers of director, CBI have not been given to” Asthana and that the “issue was discussed with the director CBI over telephone”. The policy division also wrote that Asthana’s “role is under scanner of this bureau (CBI) in certain cases”.
Incidentally, CVC K.V. Chowdary’s own appointment had also been challenged in the Supreme Court, with Prashant Bhushan questioning his eligibility for the key watchdog position given his failure – as member, investigations, in the income tax department – to pursue to the finish information of alleged payoffs to politicians contained in the Birla-Sahara diaries.
That the CVC-chaired selection committee had last year appointed Asthana as special director despite director Verma sending a note that had pointed to corruption allegations against the officer had not added to the prestige of the office of the highest watchdog.
Subsequently, NGO Common Cause had gone to Supreme Court challenging Asthana’s appointmenton the grounds that his name had figured in a 2011 diary seized from Sterling Biotech – a company being probed by the CBI for money laundering – as the alleged recipient of payments worth Rs 3.8 crore. The diary in turn became the basis for the CBI to file an FIR in August 2017 against the firm’s promoters and “other unknown public servants and private persons.” Asthana was not named in the FIR but was presumably the subject of an ongoing investigation by his own agency.
During the course of hearings before the court, it emerged that the CBI director had also raised the same concerns with the selection committee, and had even submitted a secret note detailing links between Rakesh Asthana and Sterling and its subsidiaries.
Curiously, the CBI director’s note was disregarded by the selection committee mainly on the astonishing ground that the “entries … relate to one Rakesh Asthana … and there is no finding in these papers that the person mentioned therein is the same person under consideration for appointment.”
Drawing on the official minutes of the selection committee meeting of October 21, 2017, the Supreme Court bench of Justice R.K. Agrawal and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre, had gone along with this idea that there may actually be two Rakesh Asthanas out there and that the one mentioned in the CBI director’s note may not be the same person whose appointment was being challenged.
The bench had therefore stated that it “cannot question the decision taken by the selection committee which is unanimous and before taking the decision, the director, CBI, had participated in the discussions and it is based on relevant materials and considerations. Further, even in the FIR filed by the CBI, the name of Shri Rakesh Asthana has not been mentioned at all. Thus, lodging of FIR will not come in the way of considering Shri Rakesh Asthana for the post of special director, after taking into consideration his service record and work and experience.”
Giving the benefit of doubt to Asthana the candidate, the Bench had rejected the charge that Asthana’s appointment was “illegal and arbitrary” and held that the appointment “does not suffer from any illegality”. Despite the apex court order, several questions, however, persisted about the appointment.