Rakesh Asthana gets CBI clean chit
Asthana was booked on allegations of criminal conspiracy, corruption and criminal misconduct under relevant sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act on October 15, 2018.Updated: Feb 12, 2020 00:01 IST
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Tuesday exonerated its former special director Rakesh Asthana and deputy superintendent of police Devender Kumar in the 2018 bribery case registered by then agency chief Alok Verma, two CBIofficers said.
The agency has concluded there was “no evidence” whatsoever to suggest that Asthana had ever demanded or been paid any bribe to save Hyderabad-based businessman Sathish Babu Sana, the complainant in the case, in its probe against controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi.
Asthana was booked on allegations of criminal conspiracy, corruption and criminal misconduct under relevant sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act on October 15, 2018. A day later, Dubai resident Manoj Prasad, who was in Delhi, was arrested. DSP Devender Kumar was taken into custody a week later.
The CBI apprised a Delhi court of the exoneration of Asthana while filing a charge sheet against Manoj Prasad, who was arrested a day after the high-profile case was lodged.
It has kept an investigation on his brother Somesh Prasad, based in Dubai, pending because a letter rogatory (LR) – a judicial request for information – sent to the authorities there is awaiting a response.
“We didn’t find any evidence against any public servant. In fact, examination of call details record (CDR) including WhatsApp calls and chats of Manoj and Somesh Prasad over a period of time didn’t reveal any connection with any CBI officer,” said one of the officers cited in the first instance.
Subsequently, there was no recovery of bribe money or any calls to link Asthana with Manoj Prasad and his brother Somesh Prasad the private persons named in the FIR, the officer added.
The FIR, which brought into the open a feud between Verma and Asthana, named senior IPS officer Samant Goel (currently the Research and Analysis Wing chief) as wellin the FIR. The clean chit to all public servants in the case means Goel is exonerated as well.
Interestingly, Verma is currently under the CBI’s scanner in at least three enquiries pertaining to influencing probes while he was heading the premier investigating agency and attempts to induct tainted officials into it. The ministry of home affairs is also conducting a departmental enquiry against him.
Sana was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate, the anti-money laundering agency, in July last year. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), during an enquiry in 2018, had said that Sana was repeatedly changing his statement and should be treated as a “suspect”.
Asthana, currently the head of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), has maintained throughout that the FIR against him was planned by Verma after he exposed the CBI director’s corrupt activities before the cabinet secretary in August same year. Asthana had informed the CVC and the government that Verma took ~2 crore from Sana. He refused to comment on the clean chit given to him on Tuesday.
Many in the agency termed it an effort by Verma to thwart Asthana from becoming the CBI chief by “framing” him in a “false corruption case”.
The government had to send both on forced leave at that time while the CVC conducted an enquiry into the allegations against Verma.
CVC indicted Verma for suspected corruption, interfering in probes and attempts to induct tainted officers following which the PM-led selection committee removed him on January 10 last year. He was given the post of director general of fire services and home guards but he chose to resign.
Verma didn’t respond to the text message sent by HT.
Sharing details of the investigation, the second officer cited above said that according to the procedure, the case was examined at eight levels in the CBI up to director Rishi Kumar Shukla and a majority of officers including the legal team opined in favour of closing the investigations against Asthana and Devender Kumar.
Several CBI officers and the legal team had earlier expressed the opinion that the FIR was “too weak” and “won’t stand judicial scrutiny” as the allegations were “flimsy” and cited the fact that no bribe money had been recovered.
The FIR stated that Manoj Prasad told Sana about his “good connections” in CBI and that his brother Somesh would help him get out of the Moin Qureshi case, being investigated by a special investigation team (SIT) led by Asthana since 2017.
Sana further claimed when he met Somesh Prasad in Dubai, he was told that Asthana will surely do the work as he (Somesh Prasad) had managed the officer’s investments in Dubai and London for the past many years.
The businessman added he saw Asthana’s photo on Somesh’s WhatsApp account and paid the first instalment of ~1 crore to Manoj Prasad in Dubai, and later ~1.95 crore to Manoj’s contact Sunil Mittal on December 12, 2017, in the Press Club of India’s parking area on Delhi’s Raisina Road.
Sana also alleged that he paid ~25 lakh on October 10, 2018, and 25,000 dirhams (around ~500,000) and 30,000 dirhams (around ~600,000) to Manoj Prasad in Dubai around the same time.
While he was in Dubai in December 2017, he claims, Somesh Prasad also made him listen to conversations of two CBI officers on the phone, and one of the voices was that of Asthana.
Sana’s lawyerdidn’t respond to HT’s calls.