CBI row: How the battle between agency director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana unfolded
The rift began as a CBI investigation into the Moin Qureshi corruption case and evolved into a controversy involving both bribery allegations against both Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been in a crisis these past few weeks. Although behind the scenes earlier, the infighting between CBI Director Alok Verma and his deputy, Special Director Rakesh Asthana, is now out in the open, with the agency's top two pointing fingers and each alleging that the other accepted bribes from the same man accused in a case the agency is investigating.
The CBI saga, which began as an investigation into a corruption case against meat exporter Moin Qureshi, has since evolved into a controversy involving various government and judicial authorities, with both Verma and Asthana being asked to go on leave. M Nageshwar Rao was also appointed the interim CBI director.
Here is a timeline of how the Verma versus Asthana battle in the CBI unfolded:
— The CBI registered a case of bribery against Asthana, on the basis of a complaint by Sathish Sana, an accused in the Moin Qureshi case. Asthana is accused of taking Rs 3 crore as a bribe from Sana.
Asthana's second in command, CBI Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Devender Kumar was also named in the FIR in the bribery case for allegedly forging documents related to Sana's statement. Dubai-based investment banker Manoj Prasad and his brother Somesh Prasad are also named in the FIR.
— The investigating agency arrested Manoj Prasad, believed to be a middleman in the case, when he returned from Dubai.
— Asthana wrote to the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), informing him that he wanted to arrest and interrogate Sana, for which a proposal was sent to Verma on 20 September. In the letter, he has also referred to his communication to the Cabinet secretary on 24 August, in which he detailed alleged irregularities against the CBI director.
Asthana claimed that Verma had held the file for nearly four days. He had also marked the letter to the Director of Prosecution on 24 September, who then demanded all evidence available on record, sources said.
— The CBI raided its own headquarters in Delhi and then arrested Kumar. The investigating agency claimed that Kumar allegedly fabricated a statement by Sana in the Moin Qureshi case. The CBI also alleged that the statement was fabricated with a plan to "corroborate the baseless allegations made by Asthana against Verma to the CVC".
— Kumar was produced before a special court in Delhi and remanded in CBI custody for seven days. Earlier the same day, Kumar had moved the Delhi High Court, seeking to have his arrest in the matter quashed.
The CBI told the court it had discovered "incriminating documents and evidence" in raids conducted on his office and home on 20 and 21 October. The agency had sought 10-day custody of Kumar and alleged that he was running an "extortion racket" under the "guise of an investigation".
— The same day, Asthana had also approached the Delhi High Court seeking interim relief in the bribery case, claiming that the criminal investigation against him was on "flimsy grounds" and motivated.
However, the counsel representing the CBI said: "The charges against the accused, including that of bribery and criminal conspiracy, are very serious. The charges (have been framed) under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Charges of extortion and forgery will also be added."
The court posted the matter for hearing on 29 October and ruled that till then, status quo should be maintained and Verma should respond to Asthana's allegations.
— Late in the evening, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) issued orders divesting both Asthana and Verma of their roles at the CBI. It is the first such case in the history of the investigating agency.
— In a midnight order, the CVC had recommended sending both Verma and Asthana on leave and the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into the bribery allegations against both of them. Verma is accused of taking Rs 2 crore as a bribe from Sana.
— The DoPT released another directive, after the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet decided to give interim responsibility of the CBI director's post to Joint Director M Nageswara Rao, a 1986-batch IPS officer of the Odisha cadre, with immediate effect.
— Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after a Cabinet briefing that an SIT will look into the charges against Verma and Asthana, and both officers will "sit out" the duration of the investigation, adding that they have been sent on leave as an interim measure. Jaitley had said it is absolutely essential to restore the agency's institutional integrity and credibility.
— Verma moved the Supreme Court, challenging the government's orders stripping him off his duties at the agency and appointing an interim chief in his place. He sought to have the orders removing him from the post of CBI director quashed, calling them "patently illegal". The Supreme Court scheduled the hearing for Friday, 26 October.
In his petition, Verma emphasised the need to allow the CBI "to function completely independently and autonomously", but said: "There are bound to be occasions when certain investigations into high functionaries do not take the direction that may be desirable to the government."
This is a significant remark, given the allegations that Verma was removed from his post for "asking too many questions" about the Rafale fighter jet deal.
— The CBI overhauled the team investigating the allegations of corruption against Asthana, bringing in completely new faces. The transfers reflected changes made right from the investigation officer level to supervisory levels. CBI Deputy Inspector General Tarun Gauba, Superintendent of Police Satish Dagar and Joint Director V Murugesan will now investigate the charges against Asthana.
— The CVC justified its decision to recommend divesting Verma of his responsibilities at the CBI, saying it made the decision after considering "the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances" at the investigating institution. The vigilance watchdog also cited Verma's "non compliance" and the "willful obstructions" he created for the commission while it was investigating a corruption case against him.
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