New Delhi: CBI director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana have been ‘divested of all powers’ amid an ongoing spat between them, sources said, calling it the first such case in the history of the agency.
As an interim measure, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given charge of the CBI to joint director M Nageswar Rao, an Odisha-cadre officer, with immediate effect, a government order said.
“The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved that during the period of the subsistence of the aforesaid interim measure… M Nageshwar (sic) Rao, IPS, presently working as Joint Director, CBI, shall look after duties and functions of Director, CBI, and shall take over duties and functions with immediate effect,” it read.
After taking over last night, Rao overhauled the team probing allegations of corruption against Asthana, bringing in completely new faces, officials said.
There have been changes from the investigation officer to supervisory levels, they said.
Rao, a 1986-batch Odisha cadre IPS officer, who took over the duties and functions of CBI director late last night, appointed Satish Dagar as superintendent of police to probe the case, they said.
The previous investigating officer, deputy SP, A K Bassi, has been shunted to Port Blair in “public interest” with “immediate effect”.
Rao was also holding the charge of additional director along with A K Sharma and Praveen Sinha, who are Gujarat-cadre officers.
In an unprecedented move, the CBI 15 October registered an FIR against special director Rakesh Asthana for allegedly taking a bribe from an accused, probed by him, in lieu of ensuring relief and a clean chit in the case.
The case was registered on a statement of the alleged bribe giver, Sathish Sana, who was facing probe in a separate case of bribery involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi.
Asthana, in his complaint against the director two months ago, had alleged that it was Sana who paid Verma Rs 2 crore to get relief.
The CBI also arrested Devender Kumar, a deputy SP in Asthana’s team. The agency told a Delhi court Tuesday that an ‘extortion racket’ was being run in the CBI in high-profile cases.
The spat between the two top officers is the first of its kind in the history of the agency. It became public when Verma objected to the elevation of the then additional director Rakesh Asthana as special director before the Central Vigilance Commission.
The objections were noted, but the commission in a unanimous decision, cleared Asthana as special director, making him the second-in-command in the agency.
A PIL filed by NGO Common Cause against the decision was also rejected by the Supreme Court.
Asthana, in-charge of the special investigation team handling sensitive cases, including those related to Vijay Mallya, Agusta Westland and land acquisition in Haryana, filed an explosive complaint against Verma 24 August, alleging that he took a bribe of Rs 2 crore from an accused probed by him.
Asthana had also complained about 10 more cases of alleged corruption and irregularities against the director. He had alleged that Verma had tried to stop raids on Lalu Prasad Yadav.
The matter was referred by the government to the Central Vigilance Commission which then sought files of cases mentioned in Asthana’s complaint.
In his response, Verma told the commission that Asthana’s role was under probe in at least six cases, including one related to the loan default by Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech. He also told the commission that in his absence, his second-in-command, Asthana, cannot represent in panel meetings.
Asthana urged the government to intervene, seeking an independent probe into the allegations levelled by Verma and the cases in which his role was being alleged. While communications were being exchanged, they were being leaked to the media which duly reported the developments bringing the first-of-its kind spat in the top brass of the agency in public glare.
Former officers of the agency, on condition of anonymity, have said the situation was “unfortunate” and may affect cases related to the extradition of Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.
In the wake of corruption allegations against the top officials of the agency, the accused may also plead that charges against them could be motivated, they said.
OPPN CRIES FOUL
Opposition parties today slammed the government for CBI director Alok Verma’s removal amid an escalating feud between him and his deputy Rakesh Asthana, with the Congress dubbing it the “last nail” in the agency’s independence, and the CPI(M) calling it illegal.
Adding its voice to the debate, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) asked the reasons for sending the CBI director on leave.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala wondered if Verma was “sacked’ for his keenness to probe the “layers of corruption” in the Rafale deal and sought an answer from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Modi govt buries the ‘last nail’ into the independence of CBI. Systematic dismantling & denigrating of CBI is now complete. Once a premier investigating agency, PM ensures that CBI’s integrity, credibility & reliability is buried & dead,” Surjewala said on Twitter.
Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal said: “What are the reasons for sending CBI director on leave? Under which law did the Modi govt get the authority to initiate action against the chief of an investigating agency appointed as per the Lokpal Act? What is Modi govt trying to hide?”
The government’s decision to remove CBI director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana is based on the CVC’s recommendations, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said today, asserting that it was absolutely essential to restore the agency’s institutional integrity and credibility.
The Central Vigilance Commission made its recommendations last evening, he said.
Jaitley told reporters that allegations by the top two officers of the country’s premier investigation agency led to a “bizarre and unfortunate” situation.
A Special Investigation Team will probe the charges and both persons will “sit out” as an interim measure, he added.
It is an extraordinary situation, and the accused cannot be allowed to be in charge of investigation against them, the Minister said.
He also dismissed as “rubbish” allegations of opposition parties, including the Congress, that Verma was removed because he wanted to look into the Rafale fighter jet deal.