New Delhi: When ordinary citizens are caught or even accused of taking bribes or engaging in corruption, the Central Bureau of Investigation usually wastes no time in arresting them. But in the case of special director Rakesh Asthana, number 2 in the premier investigating agency’s hierarchy, the CBI has made an exception. Though it registered an FIR against him and others a week ago for allegedly accepting bribes running into crores of rupees to settle a money laundering and corruption case involving businessman Moin Qureshi, the CBI has still not arrested the officer concerned. The fact that he is considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only deepened suspicions about political considerations coming into play.
On Monday it was widely reported that the PMO, and even Modi had summoned both CBI director Alok Verma and Asthana – who had earlier accused Verma of taking bribes – on Monday to sort out the matter amicably, as it has tarnished the image of the agency no end. While no official denial of these reports has been issued by the PMO, what has perturbed many is that while in the same case, the CBI on Monday arrested deputy superintendent Devender Kumar for “falsification of records”, it has so far been silent on the course of action it seeks to pursue against Asthana.
The proximity between Modi and Asthana is what many believe has saved the latter thus far. Even Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted that “The PM’s blue-eyed boy, Gujarat cadre officer, of Godhra SIT fame, infiltrated as No. 2 into the CBI, has now been caught taking bribes.”
The PM’s blue-eyed boy, Gujarat cadre officer, of Godra SIT fame, infiltrated as No. 2 into the CBI, has now been caught taking bribes. Under this PM, the CBI is a weapon of political vendetta. An institution in terminal decline that’s at war with itself. https://t.co/Z8kx41kVxX
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) October 22, 2018
A senior advocate who has fought many cases against the CBI told The Wire that it is incumbent upon the agency to act expeditiously when an FIR has been filed in a corruption case against an officer. “Every time a case is registered, the law must take its course. The case pertains to corruption, which is a non-bailable offence. So the accused in such a case should be arrested immediately. The CBI itself has arrested constables and other government officials for taking bribes of Rs 100 and less. Here big money is involved and the charges are of a serious nature. They should have immediately arrested the officer and suspended him. That is what the government rules also prescribe,” said the advocate.
The advocate argued that when the agency has arrested one officer in the case, there is all the more reason for it to proceed against the other.
The FIR in the case had been filed by Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana, who was also a witness in the Qureshi case, on October 15. Sana had alleged that Asthana and Devender Kumar, who was the investigation officer in the case, had received illegal gratification through private persons Manoj and Somesh Prasad for giving relief in the case.
Sana, who was called to the CBI for examination on multiple occasions in 2017, had stated that in order to get relief from frequent notices, he had approached Manoj Prasad in Dubai in December 2017. Thereafter, Rs 2.95 crore was paid to public servants through Manoj and Somesh Prasad following which no notices were issued to him till mid-February 2018. As thereafter notices were again issued to him, Sana had claimed that he contacted the middlemen again and was promised relief on paying another Rs 2 crore.
The CBI has charged in the FIR that Manoj Prasad was caught when he came to India to get the remaining Rs 1.75 crore. Thereafter, on October 20, Sana again recorded his statement, with a CBI court corroborating the assertions he had made in his complaint.
Following up on the matter, the CBI arrested deputy superintendent Kumar, who was earlier the investigation officer in the case involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi, on the charge of “falsification of records”.
In a statement, the agency said: “Kumar, who has been the investigation officer in the Qureshi case, has been arrested on the allegation of falsification of records.” The agency claimed that the officer had fabricated the statement of Sathish Sana by saying that it was recorded on September 26, 2018 in Delhi. “However, investigation revealed that Sana was not in Delhi on September 26. He was in Hyderabad on that day and joined the investigation only on October 1, 2018.”
The CBI further stated that “it was found that Kumar had fabricated the statement as an after-thought to corroborate the baseless allegations made by Asthana against CBI director to CVC.” Sana’s statement, the agency said, was actually recorded on October 3.
The CBI claimed that the fabricated statement signed by Kumar on September 26 had quoted Sana as saying:
“During June 2018, I had discussed my case with one of my old friends C.M. Ramesh, a Rajya Sabha member, who assured that he will talk to the concerned Director. Subsequently, when met with met with C.M. Ramesh, he told that he had personally met Director CBI regarding my case and examination by CBI. Ramesh also informed that I will not be called by again in this case. Since from June onwards I was not called by CBI, I was under the impression that investigation against me is completed.”
The agency claimed that it had “found that Devinder Kumar had fabricated the statement as an afterthought plan to corroborate” what it insisted were “baseless allegations” made by special director Rakesh Asthana against director Alok Kumar Verma to the Central Vigilance Commission.
Given the seriousness of the matter, the CBI statement said, the role of other Special Investigation Team members who were supervising the Moin Qureshi case was also being probed.
The agency also clarified during the day that no permission was required from the government under Section 17(A) of the Prevention of Corruption Act for filing a case against Asthana, as the matter of bribery was not related to policy making but to corruption. However, there was no word from the agency on how it would proceed against Asthana now.