By Prarthana Mitra
Days after CBI chief Akok Verma was stripped of his powers, the Supreme Court began hearing the petition countering the centre’s decision to remove him. After he was replaced by an interim chief on Tuesday, in a move that shocked politicians and bureaucrats alike, Verma moved Supreme Court following in the footsteps of CBI second-in-command Rakesh Asthana. It was the standoff between Verma and Asthana that sparked this epic spat, which finally enters the courtroom.
Veteran jurist Fali Nariman is to represent Verma in the top court, Attorney General KK Venugopal will represent the centre while Solicitor General Tushar Mehta will appear for the Central Vigilance Commission, and former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi will appear for Rakesh Asthana.
Placed on forced leave, Verma’s residence also became the site for high-drama on Friday, as his personal security officers mistook and detained four IB personnel for CBI men. “The PSOs thought that the four personnel, in two cars in the opposite and back lane of the bungalow, were from the CBI and had come at the behest of [Special Director] Rakesh Asthana to raid Mr. Verma’s bungalow,” Verma later explained.
Here’s what happened
Within days of launching a probe into corruption allegations against his deputy Rakesh Asthana, both Verma and Asthana were sent on leave on October 23, after both levelled claims of bribery and corruption against each other, in connection to an investigation against a businessman.
An official notice from the Department of Personnel and Training placed Verma on leave pending investigation, followed by an announcement later that day, appointing Joint Director M Nageshwar Rao as the interim director. Rao’s first decision since assuming position has been to transfer those investigating Asthana out of headquarters.
Verma challenged the government’s order in the Supreme Court, claiming that this move stands to compromise CBI’s autonomy and pointed out that his removal comes at a time when he is overseeing crucial investigations against high functionaries. Verma’s interest in the controversial Rafale papers, which some say may have motivated this dismissal, cannot be ignored.
Here’s what led to this
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.
Earlier this week, Devender Kumar, a former investigating officer in the case, was arrested for alleged forgery in the recording of businessman Sathish Sana’s statement, a key witness in the case. Sana had previously claimed that Dubai-based investment banker Manoj Prasad coerced him to pay Rs 5 crore, on Asthana’s word, in exchange of relief from repeated summons and a clean chit.
Following this revelation, the CBI registered an FIR against Asthana, with details of the money trail. The nodal investigative agency 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 Manoj Prasad’s sister-in-law after Prasad’s arrest, possibly to learn more about the unfolding investigation.
Meanwhile, Asthana had already written to 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.”
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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