New Delhi: In an unprecedented decision while the model code of conduct is in force, the caretaker Narendra Modi government transferred the Enforcement Directorate official who is in charge of the Nirav Modi investigation on Friday only to reverse the decision in a couple of hours.
Eyebrows were raised when Satyabrata Kumar, joint director ED handling the Nirav Modi probe was unceremoniously transferred by the special director Mumbai ED.
The Wire is in possession of both the orders.
Kumar is also the investigating official in the coal scam case which is being monitored by the Supreme Court.
Kumar confirmed to The Wire from London that he was part of the ED team, but did not comment on the transfer and cancellation orders.
Senior officials say that finance minister Arun Jaitley was aware of the transfer orders issued to Kumar. They say that with Nirav Modi’s arrest in London and his appeal to not be extradited to India, it is curious why the government would summarily transfer the official who is in charge of the Modi investigation.
The very fact that it would have caused a huge controversy ensured that the director ED, Sanjay Kumar Mishra, issued an unprecedented order cancelling the original transfer order of the special director.
The ostensible reason cited for Kumar’s removal was that his deputation had ended, but senior officials say that the finance ministry, to which the ED reports, was completely aware that his transfer from the cases would attract the ire of the Supreme Court.
So what was the reason for what sources are terming Kumar’s “hasty removal”? Sources say that the Nirav Modi case is specially being monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office and Kumar was trying to resist a “serious political attempt to interfere in the case”.
The messy infighting in the ED is identical to the unedifying war in the Central Bureau of Investigation which saw the Modi government order a post midnight raid and removed the director, Alok Verma, who was on the verge of starting an investigation in the Rafale case.
Modi, who fled India after having allegedly defrauded the state owned Punjab National Bank of Rs 13,000 crore, was arrested in the United Kingdom last week.
Earlier, the British authorities said that India had not responded to an offer by the Serious Frauds Office in the UK for some documents to ensure Modi’s arrest. The public outcry after a Telegraph reporter in London tracked him down forced the Modi government to send the documents.
An angry senior official of the ED said: “They call themselves chowkidars, so why are they trying to help scamsters”.
As rumours started swirling about Kumar’s transfer on Friday evening, the Enforcement Directorate took to Twitter to deny that the supervising investigator in the Nirav Modi case had been relieved:
Certain Media reports have been appearing that Joint Director supervising investigation in the case of Nirav Modi has been relieved. This report is not correct and denied
— ED (@dir_ed) March 29, 2019
However, the notes in the possession of The Wire make it clear that the officer was initially moved out, and then reinstated as an afterthought.