CBI chief Alok Verma, deputy Rakesh Asthana stripped of charge, new team to probe bribery case
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana were divested of all duties late in the night following a feud between the two.
Joint director M Nageswar Rao, a 1986-batch Orissa-cadre officer, who was asked to take over as acting chief immediately, in his first order, removed the entire team probing the bribery case against Asthana, including Ajay Bassi, the investigation officer (IO) and deputy inspector general Manish Sinha. (Follow live updates here)
Meanwhile, Verma has moved the Supreme Court challenging his removal and the appointment of a new director. The court has listed the matter for hearing on Friday.
In an order at 2:30 am on Wednesday served at Verma’s residence, the government said he was being divested of all responsibilities, said an official familiar with the development.
Before being divested of all responsibilities as the CBI chief, Verma too had signed an order at 9pm on Tuesday divesting his deputy Rakesh Asthana of all responsibilities.
The bribery case against Asthana was under the anti-corruption headquarters zone, which was under the powerful joint director AK Sharma. He too has been transferred internally.
Asthana in his complaint to the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) had alleged that the investigating officer Bassi was acting at the behest of director Alok Verma.
The CVC, which has superintendence over the CBI in corruption cases, and is already seized of the complaint by Asthana against the director and the counter FIR registered against him by the CBI, will seek a fair and impartial probe into the charges and counter charges.
More changes in the investigation agency are being effected by the interim director to ensure a fair and impartial probe.
Asthana, the second senior-most officer in the federal agency who has been accused of taking bribes, had secured protection from arrest from the high court, which ordered a ‘status quo’ until the next hearing on October 29.
In a counter-allegation, Asthana in a complaint to the cabinet secretary on August 24 had alleged that Verma had received a bribe of Rs 2 crore from a Hyderabad-based real estate agent Sathish Sana whose role was being investigated by a team led by Asthana in a bribery case allegedly involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi.
He had also alleged that Verma had called him over phone in February to not call Sana for questioning.
In a surprising and unprecedented move on October 15, the CBI has booked Asthana and investigation officer of the case on the charges for receiving bribe from Sana through middlemen Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad.
The CBI has arrested Devender Kumar, the Dy SP and investigation officer, alleging that he had fabricated the statement of Sana purportedly claiming that a Rajya Sabha MP had met Verma on his pending case and assured him of relief and a clean chit.
There were reports that the CBI headquarters had been sealed and officials or outsiders were not being allowed as a team of officers was inside, the sources said, according to news agency PTI.
However, the CBI spokesman clarified that no offices in the headquarters were sealed.
The removal of the director triggered a political row, with opposition leaders criticising the move and Congress wondering if Verma was “sacked” for his keenness to probe the “layers of corruption” in the Rafale scam and sought an answer from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, chief ministers of Delhi and West Bengal Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee also criticised the move.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley rubbished the opposition charges, saying the two officers (Verma and Asthana) were sent on leave to maintain integrity of the probe, which would be done by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), and not the government.