New Delhi: The controversial corruption case against former Central Bureau of Investigation special director Rakesh Asthana and DSP Devender Kumar came to an abrupt end on Saturday, when a court exonerated Asthana of all charges.
“There is no sufficient ground to proceed against Rakesh Asthana and DSP Devender Kumar. We will see if anything comes in future investigation being conducted by the CBI,” Special Judge Sanjeev Aggarwal said while taking cognisance of the CBI chargesheet.
Then CBI director Alok Verma in October 2018 had taken an unprecedented step to file an FIR against his deputy, Asthana, for allegedly accepting bribes amounting to Rs 2 crore from a Hyderabad-based businessman, Moin Qureshi, to settle a money laundering case against him. Asthana and Kumar were made the primary accused in the case. The episode unfolded amidst bitter infighting in the top investigative agency, with Asthana too pressing charges of misconduct, interference in investigation and corruption against Verma and CBI joint director A.K. Sharma.
The CBI alleged in its FIR that Asthana received bribes through a Dubai-based middleman named Manoj Prasad, who was arrested immediately after the FIR was filed. Samant Kumar Goel, a special director at India’s premier external intelligence body, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was mentioned as having aided the illegal deal between Asthana and Qureshi. Although Goel was not named as an accused, the CBI is said to have found “telephone intercepts, WhatsApp messages, money trail and a statement” that allegedly pointed towards Asthana’s culpability. The evidence was submitted to the magistrate thereafter.
However, the infighting within the CBI took a political colour, with the government sending both Verma and Asthana on leave in a midnight decision. The government appointed M. Nageswara Rao as the interim director of the agency. In the small period that Rao was in-charge, he purged the entire CBI team which was probing the case against Asthana. At the same time, the Union government ordered the Chief Vigilance Commissioner K.V. Chowdary to probe allegations against Verma. During the course of investigation, Verma accused Chowdary of bias.
This led to many opposition members believing that the Union government was attempting to get Asthana, a 1984-Gujarat cadre IPS officer, out of the mess.
The court’s clean chit to Asthana has reignited the debate. Following Verma’s dismissal, the CBI prepared a chargesheet that removed Asthana and Kumar’s names as the primary accused. Their names were mentioned in column 12 of the chargesheet, as the CBI claimed there was not enough evidence to make them accused. The chargesheet made Manoj Prasad the primary accused instead.
The CBI had already paved the way for Asthana to get a clean chit from the court, which gave its assent to its chargesheet.
The CBI court found that there are “sufficient grounds to proceed against accused Manoj, his brother Someshwar Prasad and father-in-law Sunil Mittal.” It has, thus, summoned both Someshwar and Mittal and asked them to appear on April 13.
Asthana is the head of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), and has said throughout that Verma pushed charges against him after he exposed his corrupt activities before the cabinet secretary in August, 2018. Verma, on the other hand, has maintained that Asthana used his influence in the prime minister’s office to get out of multiple corruption charges against him, and that Asthana complained against him only after a probe on his role in bribing cases were initiated by the CBI.