Delhi high court refuses to cancel bribery case against CBI No. 2 Rakesh Asthana
The Delhi high court on Friday refused to quash a bribery and extortion complaint registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against the agency’s special director Rakesh Asthana in October, saying the allegations against him “cannot be conclusively ruled out at this stage.”
Justice Najmi Waziri said the first information report (FIR) registered when Alok Verma was CBI director was not “illegal and irregular” and added that prior sanction to prosecute a government officer under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act) is not required when a cognizable offence is being made out.
“In view of the above, the petitions are dismissed,” the judge said in a 39-page order, directing the CBI to complete the investigation in the case within 10 weeks, possibly opening the doors for the arrest of Asthana, who had sought the quashing of the FIR.
Both Verma and Asthana were stripped of their powers and sent on forced leave by the government on the intervening night of October 23-24 after they accused each other of corruption in a feud that became increasingly public, splitting the CBI down the middle.
Verma was conditionally reinstated by the Supreme Court on Tuesday but removed from the agency again on Thursday.
The CBI booked Asthana on October 15 on the basis of a complaint by businessman Sana Satish Babu. Babu had been facing a probe in a 2017 case of tax evasion and money laundering involving controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi.
Babu alleged that Dubai-based brothers Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad claimed that they were acting on behalf of the CBI special director and allegedly struck a deal for ₹5 crore to protect him (Babu) in a case that the agency registered against Qureshi in 2016.
“The complainant, Sana, has alleged coercion, threat and extortion of money, albeit for an offence under Section 7 of the PC Act as well, but such acts by a public servant cannot be said to be in the discharge of his official function or duties. Therefore, in the present case, the approval (of prosecution) under Section 17A of the Act would not be necessary,” the court added.
The ruling was delivered in the process of disposing of pleas filed by Asthana, deputy superintendent of police Devender Kumar and alleged middleman Manoj Prasad to quash the bribery and extortion FIR against them.
The court stated that Babu’s complaint does not mention any direct interaction with the accused CBI officials which needs to be ascertained. The court said the role of the CBI officers needs a further probe.
While dismissing the pleas, the court said that law treats all equally. “The law does not entertain personalities. It treats all equally. India is a country governed by the Rule of Law..,” the judge said.
The single-judge bench also stated that Asthana’s contention that “FIR has been back-dated and documents have been fabricated to falsely implicate them is not borne out from the records”.
The judge also rejected Asthana’s claim that the CBI could have laid a trap to catch him red-handed when Babu had first recorded a statement. The court said that it is “not mandatory for an investigating agency to lay a trap”.
Amit Anand Tiwari, the lawyer for Asthana, requested that status quo be extended on the case. However, the court did not pass a formal order on the request.
The court had reserved the order on December 20 after hearing arguments from all sides, including Asthana, Verma, Devender Kumar and the agency.