Government

Rakesh Asthana Likely to be Absolved of All Bribes Charges Soon

'Indian Express' has reported that the investigating officer of the case has submitted a report that exonerates him of all charges.

New Delhi: Former CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, who was accused of taking bribes to the tune of Rs 2.95 crores, is likely to be absolved of all charges soon. 

Indian Express has reported that the investigating officer of the case, superintendent of police Satish Dagar has submitted a report that exonerates him of all charges. Dagar had sought voluntary retirement for “personal reasons” in August. His application is still pending. 

According to sources who were cited by the newspaper, the report is lying with top officials of the CBI at present. Once it is legally vetted, it will be sent to the agency’s director Rishi Kumar Shukla, following which a closure report may be filed at the CBI court. 

The case against Asthana had blown into a full-fledged controversy last October. The CBI, under the directorship of Alok Verma, had decided to file an FIR against him for taking bribes through middlemen Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad. It was alleged that Asthana had taken a bribe to dilute charges against one suspect called Satish Sana Babu in the Moin Qureshi money-laundering scam, which Asthana was investigating. 

On Tuesday, the CBI sought more time to complete the investigation before the Delhi High Court, which had given the agency four months to finish the probe on May 30.   

“The CBI stated in the application that a “status report containing developments made in the investigation is being submitted in a sealed cover” for the court’s consideration. The agency claimed some issues relating to investigation abroad are pending,” the Express report said. 

Also read: Explained: The CBI Controversy

The case against Asthana had led to huge infighting within the CBI. Soon after the registration of the FIR against him, Asthana had pressed similar charges of corruption against Verma.

In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary, he levelled charges of misconduct, interference in investigation and corruption by Verma and CBI joint director A.K. Sharma. The government had then asked the Central Vigilance Commission to probe the allegations against Verma. 

The internal tussle became so intense that the government, in an unprecedented midnight order, removed both Verma and Asthana from their respective positions. Verma was given a punishment posting as director-general of fire services, civil defence and home guards, which he declined and resigned from the Indian Police Service.

Asthana, on the other hand, was transferred to the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security. 

The Wire had extensively covered the CBI infighting last October, in the course of which Verma had questioned the CVC’s integrity as an independent investigator and hinted at the prime minister’s office’s interference in the case, to exonerate Asthana.  

In an exclusive report, The Wire had last week reported that the entire CBI team which was probing allegations against Asthana had been purged, and there are high chances that Asthana will be freed of all charges of corruption. 

The Express report confirmed the speculation on Friday. Sources told the newspaper that “after almost a year of investigation under multiple officers, the CBI has concluded there is no evidence to prove that any bribe was ever demanded by or paid to Asthana.”

Also read: How – and Why – the CBI’s Reputation Fell to Where It Is Now

The report also said that “no evidence has also been found against DySP Devender Kumar, who was then investigating officer in the Moin Qureshi case and was a member of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) supervised by Asthana.” Kumar was the second accused mentioned in the FIR against Asthana. He is currently out on bail.

The Prasad brothers continue to be under probe. While Somesh is still in Dubai, Manoj was arrested by CBI in October last year when he flew in from Dubai to Delhi, allegedly to collect bribe money from Babu. But according to sources, no money has been recovered or any financial trail has clearly been established yet. This has become the main argument of the IO to exonerate Asthana. 

“However, there is electronic evidence of them being in touch with Babu and discussing financial matters,” a source told Express. 

Asthana was charged of corruption on the basis of Babu’s statement that he was being harassed by the CBI in the Moin Qureshi case. 

Initially, the CBI questioned Babu in connection with Rs 50 lakh he invested in Qureshi’s meat-export company. However, Qureshi came under the CBI scanner for his alleged involvement in influencing cases in the central agency. “During investigations into the Qureshi case, officers stumbled upon Blackberry Messenger communications where he was seen trying to allegedly influence transfers and postings of certain CBI officers,” the newspaper reported.

Babu had said that he got in touch with Prasad brothers who claimed to know Asthana. The Prasad brothers had assured Babu that with a payment of Rs 5 crore, Asthana could help him get out of CBI investigations.  

Also read: Modi-Led Panel’s Decision to Remove Alok Verma as CBI Chief Is Fundamentally Flawed

Babu also claimed that once on one occasion, Manoj Prasad claimed to have been sitting in Asthana’s office when Babu called him. Upon confirming that Manoj knew Asthana, Babu claimed that he sent Rs 2.95 crores to him in different tranches. But according to sources, the CBI team could not find any financial trail leading to Asthana.  

However, Babu had made similar allegations against Verma in a statement given to Asthana’s team, Express said. 

Babu had been a witness in these cases but when the CVC declared him an “unreliable witness”, the Enforcement Directorate arrested Babu in July in connection with the Moin Qureshi case. 

The ED now has alleged that Babu had bribed officials through Qureshi to escape culpability in one Vanpic case which is allegedly linked to Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy. Babu had come under the scanner for facilitating an alleged payment of over Rs 5.75 crore to Qureshi to influence a case on behalf of Hyderabad businessman Pradeep Koneru whose father had been summoned by agencies.