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PMO Summons CBI Dir & Deputy Over Public Spat, Bribery Charges

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The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Monday summoned CBI chief Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana amid public fighting involving corruption allegations.

This comes after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in an unprecedented move, booked Asthana for allegedly receiving bribes from middlemen to give relief to a businessman being probed by him in a case involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi.

Meanwhile, the CBI on Monday arrested Devendra Kumar, DSP, CBI, on the allegation of falsification of records in an ongoing investigation into the Moin Qureshi case. He was earlier the IO in the case.

A CBI statement said that the matter relates to the creation of a statement of Satish Sana, a witness in the Qureshi case, during the investigation. It said that it was found that Sana was not present in Delhi, where the statement was supposedly taken, on that day.

It was found that Kumar had fabricated a statement on record to corroborate what the agency dubbed ‘baseless allegations’ levelled by Asthana against the director, the statement said.

On Sunday, for the first time in the history of India’s premier investigative agency, the CBI had filed an FIR against its Special Director in a bribery case.

The CBI had uploaded an FIR against Asthana, second-in-command in the CBI, based on allegations of bribery from one Satish Babu Sana, whom Asthana had probed in a case linked to meat exporter Moin Qureshi.

Asthana has been mentioned as the prime accused in the case – a development that has also drawn flak from Congress President Rahul Gandhi.

The case was registered on 15 October under Section 120B (conspiracy) of the IPC and Sections 7 (illegal gratification), 13(2) (criminal misconduct), 13(1)(d) (taking bribe) of Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 and Section 7A (to influence public servant by corrupt means) of Prevention of Corruption Act (as amended in 2018).

The CBI informed that under these sections, no prior permission under Section 17 of the Prevention of Corruption Amendment Act is needed from the government to initiate probe against an officer.

The 11-page FIR includes the statement of the complainant, Sana, which was recorded before a Magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPc.

Apart from Asthana, three more people are named in the FIR – namely Devender Kumar, Deputy Superintendent of Police in CBI, Manoj Prasad, and Somesh Prasad, who allegedly accepted the bribe on behalf of Asthana.

The CBI had also arrested Manoj Prasad, believed to be a middleman, when he returned from Dubai on 16 October. On Sunday, the agency carried out searches at CBI officer Devender Kumar’s residence and seized eight mobile phones and other documents.

According to government sources, Asthana had written to the Cabinet Secretary on 24 August, alleging that Satish Sana had paid CBI Director Alok Verma, Rs 2 crores to get relief in the same matter.

This complaint was also referred to the Central Vigilance Commission which is also probing the matter, said the sources.

The question is – how is it possible that both, the CBI Director and Special CBI Director, are accusing each other for accepting bribes from the same businessman?

Is this FIR a result of the rift between the Chief of CBI and the Special Director?

What Does the FIR say?

The FIR which is based on the complaint filed by Sana says that he was asked to appear before the investigating officer (IO) of the case, Devender Kumar, several times for recording the statement in the ongoing investigation against the meat exporter Moin Qureshi. The allegation against Sana was that he made investments of Rs 50 lakh in Qureshi's company.

Sana said that he was summoned repeatedly by the IO, Devender Kumar, and was asked the same questions again and again. Since 12 October 2017, he was allegedly summoned several times by the CBI.

He met Manoj Prasad in Dubai, who was known to him for 10 years in December 2017. He informed Prasad about being summoned by the CBI. Prasad assured Sana that he can help him in getting a clean chit in the case by using his brother Somesh Prasad's connection in the CBI.

All three, Sana, Manoj and Somesh met, and discussed the strategy to move ahead.

Sana in the complaint said,

“Somesh Prasad called a CBI officer over telephone in my presence as well as in the presence of Manoj Prasad and explained my issue to him. After talking to the said CBI officer over phone, he assured me that my problem would be solved and no further notices will be issued to me by the CBI. Somesh Prasad further told me that I will have to pay an amount of Rs 5 crore to the CBI officer through him. Somesh Prasad further informed me that in order to get favour in the case from the CBI officer, I will have to pay an amount of Rs 3 crore as an advance and remaining amount of Rs 2 crore at the time of filing chargesheet in the case, and in lieu of this money, the said CBI officer would manage clean chit to me.”

When Sana inquired about the identity of the CBI officer, Somesh revealed the name.

“Somesh Prasad disclosed the identity of the CBI officer to whom he talked in my presence and whose photo was available in the DP as Rakesh Asthana, Special Director in CBI,” said Sana in the FIR.

As first instalment, Sana allegedly paid Rs 1 crore to Manoj in his office in Dubai. He allegedly paid Rs 1.95 crore as second instalment on 13 December 2017 in the parking area of Press Club of India in Delhi.

Sana also claimed that Somesh called him from Asthana's room in Delhi. He said in the FIR:

“Within 5 minutes, he (Somesh) called me on my Dubai line to make me hear the conversation. Thereafter, I heard the voice of some person who was talking to another person... I heard that the officer was giving instruction to some another person to look into my matter and thereafter, he disconnected the call by replying ‘Jai Hind’.” 

In the FIR, Sana claimed that Somesh was managing Asthana's investments in Dubai and London for many years. He also added that Somesh also mentioned the name of Samant Goel, the second in command in RAW and Pervex Hayat, with whom he was in touch with.

For some time, Sana claimed he didn't receive any summon from the CBI after making a payment of Rs 2.95 crore. But on 13 February 2018, he allegedly received a summon to appear before the investigating officer.

When he informed Manoj about the summon, Manoj told Sana to pay the remaining Rs 2 crore to avoid further summons.

Between February to September 2018, Sana was summoned several times by the CBI. But on 25 September 2018, while he was leaving for Paris, he was stopped at the airport and was not allowed to travel because a Look Out Circular had been issued against him. He was taken to the CBI office and questioned again.

When Sana contacted Manoj, he was told that all of this was happening due to non-payment of balance amount. Accordingly, Sana made a payment of another Rs 25 lakh to Manoj.

Sana ends his complaint demanding legal action against all the people named in the FIR. The FIR said,

“In view of the above mentioned facts and circumstances, it is most humbly requested that I have been made to part with huge amount of money by the above named persons including CBI officers in the guise of helping me in a CBI case wherein I have no involvement. I, therefore, request you to take immediate legal action against the culprits in the interest of justice. I have made recording of most of the WhatsApp messages and WhatsApp voice calls which I will produce as and when asked to do so.”

No Direct Meeting Between Sana And Asthana

In the entire statement, Sana doesn’t claim to have had any direct meeting with Asthana. This will be an important area which will need to be probed by the CBI. Nonetheless, Sana claims to have enough evidence against Manoj and Somesh who allegedly acted as the middlemen for Asthana.

Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Asthana is heading the Special Investigating Team handling crucial cases such as AgustaWestland chopper scam and loan fraud by business tycoon Vijay Mallya. The team is also probing the Moin Qureshi case.

It should also be noted that it was the team under Asthana which had opened a Look Out Circular against Sana who attempted to flee the country but could not because of the preemptive action.

PM’s Blue-Eyed Boy Caught Taking Bribes: Rahul Gandhi

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Monday took to Twitter to slam the allegations against Asthana and trained guns at Prime Minister Modi, calling the CBI a “weapon of political vendetta”.

. Read more on Politics by BloombergQuint.