Did the CVC divest CBI Chief Verma at midnight based on Asthana’s complaints?

Even though the central investigating agency is putting on a brave front and pretending like everything is fine, the overnight developments that occurred within its headquarters on the night of October 23 still remain a mystery.

ByAmit Bhardwaj
Did the CVC divest CBI Chief Verma at midnight based on Asthana’s complaints?
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Even while dousing multiple fires on their home turf, the CBI wants the world to believe that everything is functioning as usual within the organisation. But with barely hours having gone by since its Director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana were sent on forced leave , the country’s premier investigating agency put out the message that M Nageswara Rao has taken over as the interim director of the CBI.

There are different versions of how things unfolded between 6 PM and midnight on the night of October 23 at the CBI headquarters. But what is clear is that Rao took charge of the agency’s reins on that very day. Apparently, the Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC), in its order dated 23 October, had divested CBI Director Alok Verma of his powers. Later, on October 24, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely addressed the national media and informed them that both—the number one (Director Alok Verma) and number two (Special Director Rakesh Asthana)— of the CBI had been divested of their powers.

Keeping in mind that the developments post-October 15 had majorly dented the public credibility of the CBI, the government on Wednesday said that the measure was taken “considering the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances which have emerged.” The reference being made is to the infighting occurring within the top ranks of the CBI, with the Verma faction taking on Asthana and his band of officers amid reports of allegations made against the CBI Director seeping into the public domain.

According to sources, the interim director of the CBI (Rao) and his team will first work on restoring people’s faith in the agency.

On Wednesday, nearly 16 transfer postings were effectively carried out and put into motion at the CBI. This included the transfer of officers who were probing bribery allegations against Asthana and his team. To give some background to the case, an FIR was lodged on October 15 in which Hyderabad-based complainant Sathish Babu Sana had levelled charges against Asthana, DSP SIT-CBI Devender Kumar, as well as two private people—Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad. Sana had alleged that Kumar was running an extortion racket within the CBI and a bribe of Rs 2 crore was sought from him with regards to the money-laundering case against meat exporter Moin Akhtar Qureshi. 

When asked about the rumblings at the CBI and the new transfer postings, a CBI spokesperson said: “An enquiry is being carried out expeditiously, impartially and fairly.” The spokesperson further added that a new team has been formed to probe the allegations against Rakesh Asthana, and keeping in mind that the investigation “must be fair and should seem fair to all aggrieved parties.”

While a three-member team will probe the Asthana case, the CBI remains tight-lipped about commenting on Verma. It is being said that the CVC “may decide on Verma.”

The agency also categorically stated that “no search, no sealing” was carried out at it headquarters.

But as for the developments that occurred on the night of October 23, the CBI remains as mum as ever.

Rao was Joint Director of CBI

The CVC in its order had stated that “an environment of hostility and faction feud has reached its peak” in the CBI, thereby “leading to potential loss of reputation” of the organisation. It also noted that the serious allegations of corruption made out by senior functionaries against each other had “vitiated the official environment.” Hence, the CBI Director and Special Director were ripped of their powers, and the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet had approved of the agency’s Joint director M Nageshwar Rao’s as its interim director.

The 1986 Odisha cadre IPS officer, Rao, who hails from the Warangal district of Telangana, was appointed as JD-CBI in 2016. Prior to this, he was serving as Additional Director General of Police in Odisha. Interestingly, CBI sources said that Rao has not taken over the CBI director’s room at the headquarters even though he has been officiating from the same building ever since he was given the charge at midnight on October 23.

This raises the inevitable question of the claims made by the CBI that Verma’s office was not sealed. If that was the case, then why has Rao not shifted to Verma’s office yet?

A new special team to probe Asthana

As per the complaint made by Sathish Babu Sana, he was constantly being summoned to the CBI headquarters by DSP (SIT-CBI) Devender Kumar Devender Kumar and was being questioned about his “investment” in meat exporter Qureshi’s business. He (Sana) had complained that a bribe of Rs 2 crore was demanded from him in order to settle the matter.

Kumar was the investigating officer in the Qureshi money laundering case and a part of Special Investigative Team (SIT) probing the matter. He was considered to belong to Asthana’s faction. He was arrested based on Sana’s complaint.

Now that both Verma and Asthana have been dissolved of their powers, a new team comprising of SP Satish Dagar, DIG Tarun Gauba, and CBI-JD V Murugesan has been formed to probe into the charges made by Sana against the agency’s special director Rakesh Asthana.

SP Satish Dagar, DIG Tarun Gauba and CBI JD V Murugesan will now probe against special director Asthana.

Dagar is the one who investigated—and ensured—conviction in the cases against Gurumit Ram Rahim. While Gauba is known for his investigation in Madhya Pradesh’s infamous Vyapam scam, Murugesan has been supervising the coal scam cases.  

Meanwhile, the previous investigating officer in the Asthana and Kumar probeDeputy SP A K Bassihas been shunted to Port Blair.

CVC order is strongly worded against Verma

While several rumours are doing the rounds as to why CBI Director Verma was sent on leave, the CVC’s order that was passed on October 23 is an unpleasant one for Verma. It has clearly accused the CBI Director of being “non-cooperative” and non-compliant with the directions of the Commission.

The Cabinet Secretary had, on August 31, forwarded a complaint dated 24 August 2018, against Verma. The complaint primarily had three charges against him. It stated that Verma had taken a bribe of Rs 2 crore from Sathish Babu Sana to stop further interrogation with him in the Qureshi case. Secondly, that Verma was interfering in the IRCTC probe in which Lalu Prasad Yadav is named. There also other “serious allegations” regarding the functioning of the CBI director.

The commission served “three separate notices (under section 11 of CVC Act, 2003)” on 11th September 2018, to Verma, asking him “to produce files and documents” before September 14, 2018. The order states that despite several adjournments and extensions, the CBI Director had failed to furnish the required records and files before the Commission. It also said that Verma “has not been cooperating in making available records/files sought by the Commission relating to serious allegations,” and that he created “willful obstructions in the functioning of the Commission.”

The series of events i.e. the arrest of Kumar, his plea in the court, and Asthana’s plea to avert arrest, led to the CVC’s final decision. The government has said that the interim arrangement at the country’s premier investigating agency shall remain “till the CVC concludes its inquiry into all issues which have given rise to the present extraordinary and unprecedented situation.”

Meanwhile, Verma has approached the Supreme Court against the “midnight coup” at his headquarters.

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