CBI shows WhatsApp texts as evidence against Rakesh Asthana
Whatsapp messages that the two alleged middleman, named accused in the Central Bureau of Investigation’s FIR against Rakesh Asthana exchanged almost a year back, and a flurry of calls after the arrest of one of them on October 16 form the bulk of evidence in the case that has engulfed the country’s federal anti-corruption probe agency, documents reviewed by HT show. These include CBI’s internal documents as well as court filings.
Ajay Bassi, a CBI Deputy Superintendent of Police and former Investigation Officer of the case against Asthana, listed most of the messages before the Supreme Court on Tuesday and sought court’s intervention to get the case investigated by a special investigation team. Bassi was transferred after CBI director Alok Verma was divested of responsibilities. He has sought a quashing of his transfer order. Court is yet to hear his petition.
On October 15, CBI registered an FIR against its own special director Rakesh Asthana on the basis of a complaint received from a Hyderabad-based businessman Sana Satish Babu, who alleged that two Dubai-based alleged middlemen — brothers Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad — agreed to take ₹5 crore from him for saving him from a agency investigation in the case against meat exporter Moin Qureshi. CBI said in the FIR that the Prasad brothers were acting on behalf of Asthana, who was supervising the probe in the case against Moin Qureshi and thus, also against Satish Babu. HT has seen a copy of the FIR.
Much before the registration of the FIR against him, Asthana, in a representation to the cabinet secretary on August 24, said CBI director Alok Verma was trying to save Satish Babu in the case and had taken ~2 crore for this. The representation was forwarded to the Central Vigilance Commission, which cited Verma’s non-coperation with its investigation as one reason for his abrupt removal on October 23. HT has seen a copy of the letter to the cabinet secretary. Asthana declined to offer any comment, saying the matter is sub-judice.
Asthana’s team was investigating Satish Babu as a suspect. Asthana wanted to arrest him, citing non-cooperation in the probe in September this year but the director sought a legal opinion from CBI’s director of prosecution, according to a CBI officer familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. That’s because Satish Babu is a witness of the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case against Moin Qureshi. Director Verma wanted to know whether Babu could be a witness in one case and suspect in another, according to this officer.
Alok Verma did not respond to requests for a comment.
On October 15, even as the legal opinion was awaited, Satish Babu approached CBI with a complaint saying he was being hounded by the Prasad brothers for money according to documents seen by HT. He gave statements twice before a magistrate under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code – October 4 (in the Moin Qureshi case) and on October 20 (in the bribery case against Asthana), five days after a registration of the case. When Bassi recorded first statement of Satish Babu on October 4, he was not even designated as Investigation Officer. The case was still with DySP Devendra Kumar who was later arrested on the charges of fabrication of evidence.
Bassi said in his petition that he has transcripts of conversations where Somesh Prasad is heard telling his father-in-law that “Asthana apna aadmi hai” (Asthana is on our side) and “Manoj (his brother) has met Asthana three to four times”.
The call records cited by Bassi do not specify the context of the conversations and do not connect Asthana with the Prasads directly, according to a second CBI officer who is is acquainted with the content of these calls and who asked not to be identified.
On October 16, CBI arrested Manoj Prasad on his return from Dubai. The documents show alleged demand for bribe and payments were made in two “distinct” periods – December, 2017 and October 2018. Bassi’s team investigating Asthana also said that after the arrest of Manoj Prasad there were flurry of calls between Research and Analysis Wing special secretary Samant Goel (who is Asthana’s batchmate) and Somesh Prasad; between Goel and Asthana; and also between father of the Prasad brothers and Goel. Goel didn’t not respond to messages seeking comment. HT has seen a note on the probe carried out by CBI.
Dineshwar Prasad, father of Manoj and Somesh, is a former R&AW official who retired from the agency in 1999, says officials familiar with his background.