The internal tussle in India’s central probe agency split wide open after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charged its own Special Director Rakesh Asthana for accepting bribes to settle a case involving controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi. Rakesh Asthana has been sent on leave, while CBI Director Alok Verma was relieved of his post and Deputy SP Devender Kumar has been suspended and sent to a seven-day CBI custody.
The CBI headquarters in New Delhi on Wednesday were searched and raided by its officials over the bribery allegations and the fast-following developments have triggered a massive political fight in India. Here’s all you need to know about the controversy.
The tussle between CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana started in 2017. It all started with Asthana’s appointment to CBI. Verma handed over a confidential letter to Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) over Asthana’s promotion to the post of CBI special director, claiming the latter was under investigation in the 2017 Sterling Biotech bribery case. However, Asthana’s promotion was cleared. In June 2018, Alok Verma wrote another letter to the CVC that Asthana could not represent him in his absence since the latter faces allegations of corruption.
Later, Asthana shot back and filed a complaint against Verma accusing him of interfering in the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) corruption case involving the family members of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav. This bureaucratic infight between Verma and Asthana came to a head when the CBI named Asthana in a First Information Report (FIR) in a bribery case and the allegations escalated.
On October 21, the CBI charged Rakesh Asthana, a 1984-batch Indian Police Service officer of Gujarat cadre, of accepting a bribe of Rs 2 crore from a Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana, who was under probe in the Moin Qureshi case in order to "wreck" the investigation.
The CBI has alleged that bribes were given at least five times between December 2017 and October 2018.
The charges against Asthana came to light after Dubai-based middleman Manoj Kumar gave a confessional statement before a magistrate stating that he paid Rs 2 crore to Asthana on behalf of Moin Qureshi, who is being probed by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on charges of money laundering. Qureshi was arrested by the ED in August 2017 under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
On October 22, the CBI arrested its own DSP Devender Kumar in connection with the bribery allegations against Asthana. Kumar has been accused of fabricating the statements given by Sathish Babu Sana, a witness in the Qureshi case, showing that he had recorded a statement on September 26, 2016, in New Delhi. However, after investigation, it was found that Sana was never in New Delhi but in Hyderabad and joined the probe only on October 1, 2018.
Devender Kumar was on Tuesday remanded to seven-day CBI custody and suspended from the CBI pending investigation.
After the CBI filed an FIR against Asthana, he moved the Delhi High Court on Tuesday seeking interim protection from arrest and quashing of an FIR in connection with bribery allegations against him.
The Delhi High Court has given former CBI Director Alok Verma time till Monday, October 29 to respond to the allegations against Asthana. The court ruled that until October 29, no action can be taken against Asthana. The court has also ordered CBI to “maintain status quo” with regards to this issue, with Justice Najmi Waziri stating that the “petitioner is before court now.” Delhi HC has also clarified that this does not qualify as a stay on the probe into the claims.
Meanwhile, in a dramatic midnight action, the Centre divested CBI Director Alok Verma of his charges on Wednesday and appointed M Nageshwar Rao as the Interim CBI Director.
Alok Verma has challenged the Centre’s order removing him from the post and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear his petition on Friday.
Thirteen officers probing the bribery case against Asthana have been transferred - Dy SP CBI AK Bassi, Additional SP CBI SS Gum, CBI DIG Manish Kumar Sinha, DIG Taurn Gauba, DIG Jasbir Singh, DIG Anish Prasad, DIG KR Chaurasia, HoB Ram Gopal, SP Satish Dagar, CBI's JD (P)Arun Kumar Sharma, A Sai Manohar, HoZ V Murugesan and DIG Amit Kumar.
Meanwhile, the fight within the agency has triggered a big political fight in India with opposition parties hitting out at the Centre. Congress claimed Prime Minister Narendra Modi has "destroyed" the CBI and accused him and BJP chief Amit Shah of "perpetually misusing" the agency. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal stated the BJP has turned the CBI into a "national disgrace" and the CPI(M) claimed Asthana was pushed into the agency to “subvert investigations” against BJP leaders. Following this, Congress party president Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to say, "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."