Boss trying to frame me, CBI No. 2 Rakesh Asthana tells court; agency recommends his transfer

Rakesh Asthana, the second senior-most officer in the federal agency who has been accused of taking bribes, secured protection from arrest from the high court, which ordered a ‘status quo’ until the next hearing on October 29.
CBI special director Rakesh Asthana has been named in a complaint by a Hyderabad-based businessman, Sana Satish Babu, who alleged that two Dubai-based brothers claimed that they were acting on behalf of Asthana and struck a deal for <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>5 crore to protect him.(Sonu Mehta/HT File Photo)
CBI special director Rakesh Asthana has been named in a complaint by a Hyderabad-based businessman, Sana Satish Babu, who alleged that two Dubai-based brothers claimed that they were acting on behalf of Asthana and struck a deal for 5 crore to protect him.(Sonu Mehta/HT File Photo)
Updated on Oct 24, 2018 08:01 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRajesh Ahuja and Richa Banka

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma on Tuesday divested special director Rakesh Asthana of all cases he is overseeing and recommended that he be transferred out of the agency, hours after the Delhi high court refused to halt an investigation against the latter that has turned out to be one of the most controversial chapters in the agency’s history, complete with a raid on its own headquarters and the arrest of a deputy superintendent of police (DSP).

Asthana, the second senior-most officer in the federal agency who has been accused of taking bribes, secured protection from arrest from the high court, which ordered a ‘status quo’ until the next hearing on October 29.

According to a CBI official who asked not to be named, Asthana will no longer be in charge of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) handling sensitive investigations like the AgustaWestland bribery case, the Vijay Mallya loan default case and the IRCTC land-for-contract case against Bihar politician Lalu Prasad.

The allegations against Asthana are part of an unprecedented feud within the agency between him and Verma, the agency’s top two officers. Asthana, the agency has alleged, took bribes to help a suspect, while Devender Kumar, the DSP, conspired with him to fabricate evidence in order to implicate the CBI director.

The agency told high court justice Najmi Waziri that more sections related to forgery and extortion were being added in the case against the special director and the DSP.

In his petition filed through advocate Amit Anand Tiwari, Asthana said the case against him was “malafide” and that the highest officer of the CBI (Verma) was “trying to falsely implicate him (Asthana) to hide his own criminal misconduct of influencing investigation in exchange of money”.

Read | In corruption case against CBI no.2 Rakesh Asthana, PM Modi’s clear-cut order

The order for status quo means Asthana cannot be arrested for now, but the CBI can continue with the investigation against him and he can be questioned. The status quo also does not apply to administrative aspects.

“Initially, the director was planning to recommend suspension of Asthana. But there was re-thinking on the issue. Even if the government agreed with the recommendation in this regard, Asthana would have remained in the CBI; therefore, it was decided to recommend his transfer outside the agency,” said the CBI official cited above.

Any curtailment of the tenure of any CBI officer of or above the rank of superintendent of police needs to be cleared by a panel led by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). The agency formally informed the CVC, which oversees the CBI in corruption cases, about the FIR against Asthana.

“Therefore, the proposal will finally land in the CVC. Since a copy of the FIR registered against Asthana too has been sent to the CVC formally, the commission may call for details of the case,” said the official. The recommendation for Asthana’s transfer will be sent to the CVC on Wednesday, this person added.

Besides divesting Asthana of all the cases he is overseeing, the CBI official quoted above said the CBI director also removed joint director A Sai Manohar from SIT. Manohar too is under scanner in the case against Asthana. The SIT is not being disbanded, the official added, and additional director Nageswar Rao will take over the cases being handled by the SIT.

Read | CBI case against its top official Rakesh Asthana rests on 9 calls, many WhatsApp messages

For now, the most serious implication in this saga has been for DSP Kumar, who was arrested on Monday and remanded to CBI custody on Tuesday after his plea – separate from Asthana’s – for the FIR to be quashed was rejected by the Delhi high court.

Justice Waziri directed the CBI to file a response to Kumar’s plea. The court also asked both Asthana and Kumar to preserve all their electronic devices, including mobile phones, after the counsel for CBI sought such directions from the court .

Shortly after the HC order, a special CBI court remanded Kumar to the agency’s custody for a week. “Considering the gravity of offence and seriousness of allegations, I am of the opinion that police custody of the accused is necessary for proper investigation,” special judge Santosh Snehi Mann wrote in his order.

The remand meant Kumar was automatically suspended as per protocol that says any public servant’s questioning for more than 24 hours will lead to suspension.

Justice Mann also addressed the issue of the law invoked by the CBI to prosecute the officers, saying the allegations did not require sanction from the government since they did not relate to discharge of duty. Under changes to the Prevention of Corruption act earlier this year, the government needs to clear the prosecution of public servants for corruption in the performance of their duty.

The Congress accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah of being responsible for “dismantling, denigrating and destroying” the CBI, and demanded an impartial inquiry into the “entire mess” in the country’s premier probe agency.

“Habitual misuse of CBI by Modi and Shah for fixing political opponents and illegal intervention to tamper with fair investigation of serious criminal cases has landed the investigation agency in an unfathomable mess,” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told a news conference in Delhi.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons weren’t immediately available for a comment on the allegations by the Congress.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also spoke against the controversy.

CBI director Verma met Prime Minister Modi on Sunday to brief him on the developments. Modi, officials aware of the meeting said, asked him to “let the law take its own course”.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022