ACTED AGAINST ASTHANA FOR CBI’S IN­TEGRITY: VERMA TO CVC

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Front Page - Ra­jesh Ahuja ra­jesh.ahuja@hin­dus­tan­times.com ■

CBI di­rec­tor Alok Ku­mar Verma on Fri­day ex­plained to the Cen­tral Vig­i­lance Com­mis­sion (CVC) that when in Oc­to­ber last year he first handed the CVC a se­cret note de­tail­ing al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion against his deputy Rakesh Asthana, his ob­jec­tive had been to main­tain the “or­gan­i­sa­tional in­tegrity” of the agency, an of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said.

Verma ex­plained his po­si­tion dur­ing an ex­am­i­na­tion by the CVC, which sum­moned him in con­nec­tion with charges of cor­rup­tion that Asthana has lev­elled against him.

“Dur­ing an hour-long in­ter­ac­tion with CVC KV Chowdary and two vig­i­lance com­mis­sion­ers – Sharad Ku­mar and TM Bhasin – Verma said main­tain­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tional in­tegrity of the CBI was the only mo­tive for all de­ci­sions he took from Oc­to­ber last year,” the of­fi­cial cited above said on con­di­tion of anonymity.

“For­mer Supreme Court judge AK Pat­naik, who is su­per­vis­ing the in­quiry, was also present dur­ing the ex­am­i­na­tion. It was a con­ver­sa­tional ex­am­i­na­tion where the di­rec­tor ex­plained the ra­tio­nale be­hind his de­ci­sions,” he added.

Di­rec­tor Verma and Asthana, spe­cial di­rec­tor, were di­vested of their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties last month af­ter en­gag­ing in an un­prece­dented pub­lic feud in which they traded al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion against each other.

Verma and Asthana didn’t re­ply to calls and mes­sages sent by HT. Chief vig­i­lance com­mis­sioner KV Chowdary too didn’t re­spond to a call and mes­sage.

The feud at the top in the CBI came into the open in Oc­to­ber last year when a panel led by Chowdary, with two vig­i­lance com­mis­sion­ers and sec­re­taries in the min­istries of home and per­son­nel as its mem­bers, was con­sid­er­ing a pro­posal to pro­mote Asthana from ad­di­tional di­rec­tor to spe­cial di­rec­tor.

At a meet­ing of the panel, Verma handed over a note claim­ing that Asthana was un­der the scan­ner in a cor­rup­tion case reg­is­tered by the CBI against the Gu­jarat-based San­desara group. The note pur­port­edly con­tained de­tails of pay­ments writ­ten in a di­ary that was re­cov­ered by the in­come tax de­part­ment dur­ing its searches at the premises of the San­desara group in 2011.

The tax de­part­ment asked the CBI to probe the di­ary be­cause it also con­tained de­tails of pay­ments pur­ported to have been made to some in­come tax of­fi­cials, too.

The CBI had reg­is­tered a first in­for­ma­tion re­port (FIR) on the mat­ter in Au­gust last year. Dur­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the CBI found that there was a men­tion of Asthana too in the di­ary. There were a few en­tries that showed the San­desara group was pay­ing monthly rent to Asthana for a house in Gand­hi­na­gar, Gu­jarat. Asthana is a Gu­jarat cadre of­fi­cer of the 1984 batch.

The di­ary also pur­port­edly con­tained a few other en­tries that showed pay­ments to the tune of ₹3.8 crore had been made to an en­tity iden­ti­fied as “RA”.

In Oc­to­ber last year, when the CVC-led panel met to con­sider the pro­mo­tion of Asthana, Verma pro­vided the note with all the de­tails. But the panel ig­nored the note and rec­om­mended Asthana’s pro­mo­tion.

Asthana has claimed that the en­try “RA” was ba­si­cally for “Run­ning Ac­count” that the San- de­sara group had with a Punebased firm and the CBI de­lib­er­ately kept this in­for­ma­tion un­der the wraps to ha­rass him.

In Au­gust this year, Asthana rep­re­sented to the cab­i­net sec­re­tary that di­rec­tor Verma was in­ter­fer­ing in probes car­ried out un­der his (Asthana’s) su­per­vi­sion. He mainly men­tioned two cases – the probe against con­tro­ver­sial meat ex­porter Moin Qureshi and the In­dian Rail­way Cater­ing and Tourism Cor­po­ra­tion (IRCTC) case in which for­mer rail­way min­is­ter Lalu Prasad is an ac­cused.

Asthana said Verma tried to stall CBI ac­tion against an “ac­cused,” Hy­der­abad-based busi­ness­man Sana Satish Babu, in the Moin Qureshi case in ex­change for a pay­ment of ₹2 crore and also al­leged that the agency chief tried to stop a raid against Lalu Prasad in con­nec­tion with ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at IRCTC.

The cab­i­net sec­re­tary sent his rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the CVC for fur­ther ver­i­fi­ca­tion, given that the vig­i­lance body has su­per­in­ten­dence over the CBI in cor­rup­tion cases.

But as the vig­i­lance body was look­ing into the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Asthana, the CBI on Oc­to­ber 15 reg­is­tered a case against the spe­cial di­rec­tor, say­ing two mid­dle­men struck a deal for ₹5 crore with Satish Babu to save him in the Moin Qureshi case.

The case against Asthana led to an un­prece­dented es­ca­la­tion of the war at the top in the agency, and the gov­ern­ment on Oc­to­ber 23 de­cided to di­vest both Verma and Asthana of their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Verma chal­lenged the or­der in the Supreme Court, which asked the CVC to com­plete the in­quiry into al­le­ga­tions made by Asthana by Novem­ber 12.

“Verma in fact in­di­cated to the CVC if they had acted on his last year Oc­to­ber note, the agency could have been saved from all this ‘dis­re­pute’ heaped on it. He told the in­quiry of­fi­cers that though his note was ig­nored in Oc­to­ber last year, the same note was used by the CVC to di­vest Asthana of his re­spon­si­bil­ity as the spe­cial di­rec­tor one year later,” said the of­fi­cial cited above.

The of­fi­cial added the di­rec­tor re­but­ted all the charges made by Asthana and ex­plained to the CVC that Satish Babu, who too has been ex­am­ined by the CVC, was a wit­ness in the case against Qureshi and not an ac­cused, as claimed by his deputy. The CVC on Fri­day ex­am­ined Asthana too fol­low­ing the ex­am­i­na­tion of Verma.

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