By Prarthana Mitra
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday arrested its Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar in connection with an alleged bribery case involving the agency’s Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who had been handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself despite severe criticism.
The recent development arrived after the nodal investigative agency analysed nine phone calls and several WhatsApp messages, following middlemen Manoj and Somesh Prasad’s arrest on Sunday, officials reported.
Here’s what happened
The original case involved an investigation overseen by Asthana, into multiple counts of money laundering and corruption brought against meat exporter Moin Qureshi. Qureshi was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in 2017 but was later granted bail. A probe into alleged tax evasion and money laundering began against him. Soon after, CBI Chief Alok Verma and Asthana started trading allegations of corruption against one another, and the Central Vigilance Commission took over the still ongoing case.
Kumar, a former investigating officer in the Qureshi case, now faces accusations of forgery in the recording of businessman Sathish Sana’s statement, who happens to be a key witness in the case. Earlier this month, the CBI registered an FIR against Asthana, after Sana claimed that CBI’s second-in-command coerced him to pay Rs 5 crore in exchange of relief from repeated summons and a clean chit.
The Hyderabad-based businessman also claimed that Prasad assured him that his brother Somesh would handle Asthana’s investments in London. His testimony, however, has no mention of any meeting, interaction or payment of a bribe to Asthana directly. The conversation and collection were allegedly carried out by Manoj Prasad, an investment banker based in Dubai.
Sana’s testimony rattles Prasad and Kumar, Asthana remains untouched
Sana appeared before the Magistrate to testify to the payments made over the past year, to a middleman who claimed to know Asthana and ensured the promised relief. Prasad was summoned for interrogation on his way back from Dubai, to purportedly collect another instalment of this bribe. A raid on Sunday recovered eight mobile phones and an iPad from Kumar’s residence in Delhi.
However, Asthana had already intimated the cabinet secretary in a letter dated August 24, detailing Sana’s relief-bribe of Rs 2 crore to CBI Chief Alok Verma (along with 10 other instances of similar bribery). The CBI later claimed that Kumar fabricated Sana’s statement “as an afterthought…to corroborate the baseless allegations made by Asthana against CBI director Alok Verma” to the Central Vigilance Commissioner, PTI reported.
The FIR against Asthana contained details of the money trail; the CBI has also recovered texts and call data which prove that several calls were exchanged between Asthana, another senior official from a different intelligence agency and Somesh Prasad’s wife after Prasad’s arrest, possibly to learn more about the unfolding investigation.
The recent charges are to be seen against the backdrop of controversies and criticism that his appointment invited, back in 2017. In the past, his team was tasked with probing into high-profile cases like Vijay Mallya’s loan fraud and the AgustaWestland chopper scam.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.