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Rakesh Asthana, CBI No. 2 who probed Agusta accused, now fights for career

Weeks before he was stripped of his charge, Rakesh Asthana had completed most of the groundwork for the chargesheet that the agency will file in court against Christian Michel

india Updated: Dec 05, 2018 11:50 IST
Rajesh Ahuja
Rajesh Ahuja
Hindustan Times
rakesh asthana,CBI,ousted CBI officer
When the FIR was filed against Rakesh Asthana, on charges that he was trying to save a Hyderabad-based businessman from CBI action in the Moin Qureshi case, Manohar too was being treated as a suspect since he was part of the SIT formed under Asthana.(HT Photo)

As the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland deal, Christian James Michel, 57, landed in India after being extradited from Dubai, the CBI officer who supervised the probe against him for most parts is fighting a tough legal battle of survival. The government had divested both Asthana and CBI chief Alok Verma of their powers after they levelled charges of corruption and misconduct against each other.

Weeks before he was stripped of his charge, Asthana had completed most of the groundwork for the chargesheet that the agency will file in court against Christian Michel in the VVIP chopper deal case. Asthana, the CBI No. 2, had led the probe in the AgustaWestland case for nearly two years.

The team of CBI officials that had gone to Dubai to bring Michel back to India was led by CBI joint director A Sai Manohar. Manohar was part of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed under Rakesh Asthana more than two years ago to look after nearly half-a-dozen big ticket cases of corruption - such as the Vijay Mallya scam, AgustaWestland case, Moin Qureshi probe. Anil Sinha was heading the investigating agency at that time.

When the FIR was filed against Asthana on charges that he was trying to save a Hyderabad-based businessman from CBI action in the Moin Qureshi case, Manohar too was being treated as a suspect since he was part of the SIT formed under Asthana.

Asthana, who was divested of his responsibility on October 23 in a dramatic turn of events past midnight, had supervised the filing of the first chargesheet in the AgustaWestland case in September 2017.

Apart from middleman Christian James Michel, the chargesheet had also named former Air Chief SP Tyagi as one of the accused.

Officials familiar with the development say the first chargesheet focused on the role of bureaucrats in the deal. The next one will focus on political beneficiaries in the deal.

Now, with Christian Michel in their custody, the CBI is looking to fill in gaps in their information on how politicians and the key players in the case were bribed to swing the deal in Agusta’s favour.

At the time his fight with CBI director Alok Verma peaked in October, Asthana was overseeing work on the supplementary chargesheet that the agency will file.

Asthana, in the last few months also alleged in his conversations with other officials, that he was being targeted by CBI chief Alok Verma since he was handling politically sensitive cases such as the ones against liquor baron Vijay Mallya and AgustaWestland scam, say officials familiar with the developments at CBI.

Also Read: Government can’t remove CBI chief midterm, Alok Verma tells court

Michel is wanted for commercial fraud, bribery and money laundering in connection with the deal to purchase 12 helicopters for the Indian Air Force from the company then known as AgustaWestland. Michel has refuted the allegations.

“Christian Michel James will be examined with respect to his involvement in the case and confronted with documents recovered during raids by Swiss Authorities and received by CBI through LRs indicating the bribes paid by Christian Michel James to the Indian authorities for securing the contract for supply of VVIP helicopters from M/s AgustaWestland,” CBI said in a statement.

First Published: Dec 05, 2018 11:08 IST