CBI vs CBI: Fresh claims of evidence manipulation further erode credibility; govt must set up mechanism for agency overhaul
Two officers from warring factions of Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana are accusing each other of manipulation of seized data, tampering with evidence and destroying records to benefit one or the other camp, further eroding the credibility of the investigating agency
New Delhi: In a criminal investigation, nothing is more tangible than the search and seizures. If all items can be accounted for and thoroughly examined, the procedure may transform the fate of the case. But the entire process has a flimsy side too. If they can be manipulated, the whole case may just cause an upheaval. And that’s what is happening in the present CBI case where two officers from warring factions of Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana are accusing each other of manipulation of seized data, tampering with evidence and destroying records to benefit one or the other camp.
CBI DSP Devender Kumar, close confidante of Asthana, has accused investigating officers close to Verma of manipulating the seizure memo by showing on record just one mobile phone during the searches at his office and residence on 20 October. Devender was arrested on bribery charges in the Moin Qureshi case and is now under 14-day judicial custody. Devender alleges that seven other mobile phones belonging to him were not shown in the search list for two days and may have been tampered with to fabricate evidence against him. The seven other phones were submitted to the CBI technical unit on 22 October.
On the other hand Verma’s close confidante DSP Ajay Kumar Bassi, who was transferred to Port Blair after the government appointed M Nageshwar Rao as the interim director via a midnight order, has alleged that the new officers appointed by the agency to handle the investigation may destroy the records and irrefutable evidence to insulate Asthana from bribery charges levelled against him by Sathish Babu Sana.
Let's have a look at the evidence tampering charges by Devender . Firstpost has reviewed the search and seizure list dated 20 October by CBI AC-III Unit. It mentioned that ‘One' mobile phone of Devender was seized and it was put in a sealed envelope. Another memo accessed was prepared on 26 October giving out details of all the articles seized by the CBI, which clearly mentioned that “One mobile’ was handed over to Inspector SK Jha around 8 PM on 20 October while other seized items including an iPad were given on 22 October.
“The mobile phone mentioned at serial No 1 in the list (Motorola make, model XT1068, dual SIM mobile) was handed over to me by Dinesh Kumar, Inspector CBI AC III on 20 October, 2018, around 8 pm. The remaining articles were handed over to me by Inspector Dinesh Kumar on 22 October, 2018, around 5 pm for data extraction purpose. The articles were kept in paper envelopes but were not in a sealed condition. However, the envelopes were closed by using cello tape. The articles mentioned at serial No 2 to 4 have been opened and processed by me for retrieving the data. The envelopes of remaining articles were opened to check the specifications of the articles, which has been incorporated in the instant handing over memo,” it said.
It is pertinent to mention that handing over memo was prepared after the midnight mayhem at CBI Headquarters on 23 October. The two-page memo date 26 October also unravels the mystery about those mobile phones that were missing for more than 48 hours and suddenly appeared in paper envelopes. The list includes two iPhones, another Motorola phone with a 16 GB memory card, two external USB hard drives, one mobile phone each of Samsung, G’Five, Nokia make and an iPad.
Devender alleges that other articles were not shown in the search and seizure memo and surreptitiously inserted two days later to tamper with evidence and even fabricate some evidence to frame him in the bribery case. Interestingly, the memo is silent on those two mysterious days and about the officers, who were supposedly handling it during that period.
Bassi, on the other hand, moved the Supreme Court seeking not just setting aside his transfer order but also requesting the apex court for constituting a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to conduct an impartial investigation. Bassi claims that he was brought into the unit investigating the bribery charges against Asthana and Devender only on 28 September 2018 and barely spent three weeks on the job. Nevertheless, the officer, who earlier served in the domestic spy agency Intelligence Bureau (IB) for more than a decade before joining CBI in 1999 has collected a plethora of evidence charging Asthana and his team members of colluding with the accused (Moin Qureshi and others) and scuttling the probe in return of huge sums.
Although, he claims to have handed over the evidence related to the case to the newly appointed DSP Satish Dagar, Bassi alleges that Dagar is suspected to have been instructed to ensure a clean chit to Asthana, while officers like him (Bassi) are implicated for performing their duties with honesty and integrity.
Bassi’s twist in the CBI scandal
Bassi, who was permanently absorbed in the CBI in 2006, has handled several big ticket cases including the Telgi fake stamp paper case, Ryan International School case and the notorious wildlife poacher Sansar Chand case. He alleges that subsequent investigation in the case reveals that money in five installments totaling Rs 2.95 crore was paid to Asthana through middlemen Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad by the complainant Sathish Babu Sana. Bassi claims he took over the case after an FIR was filed against Asthana, Devender and others on 15 October and further investigation revealed the name of R&AW special secretary Samant Goel.
Bassi and his team had arrested Manoj, the alleged middleman in the present case on 17 October. He claimed that Manoj had not deleted his whatsapp messages with Dubai-based brother Somesh and they provide a peek into the alleged corruption scandal that rocked the CBI. Among those are one message on 3 January 2018 where Somesh is allegedly asking Manoj to put pressure on Sana for payment to not to ‘take panga with them... too powerful people'.
Interestingly, in none of these messages Asthana or Devender’s name has been mentioned. However, Bassi claims that during the investigation Somesh mobile phone was put under surveillance which provided investigators with more evidence. Bassi said they have analysed call detail records of suspects and investigation revealed that immediately after the news broke out on the arrest of Manoj in the late night on 16 October 2018, Somesh made immediate calls to Goel, who in turn called Asthana.
Bassi alleged that on 16 October Somesh and Goel called each other once and spoke for about 10 minutes. He alleged that on 17 October morning Goel made two calls to Asthana while Asthana, Bassi alleged, called Goel twice.
"In between Somesh called Goel once and spoke to him for about a minute,” Bassi alleged.
Bassi also alleged that Somesh, who was kept under surveillance made calls to his father-in-law Sunil Mittal. In the conversation between Somesh and Mittal, Bassi alleged Asthana's name was mentioned as 'our man'; in the conversation with Goel, Somesh was warned by the former not to come to India at any cost.
“These transcripts are available with the CBI but there is a strong chance that they may not place the same on record,” Bassi claimed while alleging that a false statement of Sana was recorded by Devender under Section 161 of CrPC and the newly appointed officers may frame the former investigation team.
Currently, no investigation can claim to demystify the affairs at dark stained CBI headquarters. The horrifying details of toxic culture emerging each passing day have further eroded the credibility of the premier investigating agency, which is probing more than 400 corruption cases. It may not be the time to measure the impact of the current crisis within the ranks but certainly a signal for the government to read the temperature and deploy right mechanism for a methodical overhaul.
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