Central Bureau of Investigation Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who is the agency’s second-in-command, has accused the agency’s Director Alok Verma and Joint Director Arun Kumar Sharma of trying to falsely implicate him in a corruption case, the Hindustan Times reported on Monday.
This comes a day after it was reported that the agency has named Asthana in a First Information Report in a bribery case. The CBI official has been accused of accepting a Rs 2-crore bribe to scuttle an investigation into businessman Moin Qureshi, who is an accused in multiple corruption cases.
In a letter sent to the Central Vigilance Commission on October 15 – the day the agency filed the FIR – Asthana accused Verma and Sharma of instructing an officer of “doubtful integrity” to visit places in Gujarat to dig out anything against him in connection with the Sterling Biotech loan fraud case.
The Gujarat-based company allegedly defaulted on loans worth Rs 5,383 crore. Last year, petitioners who had challenged Asthana’s appointment to the Central Bureau of Investigation told the Supreme Court that his name had surfaced in a diary obtained by the agency from the premises of Sterling Biotech in August 2017. It suggested that the CBI officer had accepted bribes from the company, the petitioners had alleged.
The fight between Verma and Asthana started in 2017, when the director objected to Asthana’s appointment to the agency as he was under investigation in the Sterling Biotech case.
Last month, the investigating agency said a complaint filed by Asthana against Verma was malicious and frivolous. The statement was issued after some media reports claimed that Asthana had approached the Central Vigilance Commission, accusing Verma of interfering in his team’s investigations. The CBI’s chief vigilance officer told the commission that the complaint was an attempt by Asthana to intimidate officers investigating his role in some cases.
Meanwhile, The Indian Express reported that Asthana wrote to Cabinet Secretary Pradeep Kumar Sinha in August, mentioning more than a dozen accusations against Alok Verma and other top officials at the agency. One of the allegations Asthana has made against Verma also pertains to the Moin Qureshi case. Asthana has alleged that Hyderabad-based businessman Sana Sathish Babu, who is an accused in the case, had claimed to have paid a bribe of Rs 2 crore to Verma.
Asthana claimed he had moved a file for Sathish Babu’s arrest on September 20 but it was held up by Verma and was then referred to the director of prosecution, who demanded the evidence file, PTI reported. In a late night statement on Sunday, the agency’s spokesperson said that the allegation was false and malicious.
Meanwhile, unidentified senior government officials told The Indian Express that while the wars between the top CBI officials had “gone too far”, the rumours of either Verma or Asthana being offered other assignments were incorrect.
‘Centre should disclose everything’: Congress
On Sunday, the Congress demanded that the Centre disclose everything and not interfere in the investigation against Asthana, PTI reported. Party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said it appeared that the only reason Asthana was in the CBI was “either that he comes from a particular geographical part of India which happens to be in the west of India or because his closeness to those who rule us, is famous”.
When asked about the matter at a press conference, Singhvi said he had heard about it only in news reports, but added: “If even fractionally what you and I have read [in news reports] is true, then it is the most serious of serious things and remember, this [Asthana’s] is the same appointment which was heavily objected to at the time of appointment itself, inception itself.”
He added: “Can you imagine the so-called premier policing agency of this country is policed at number two position by a person whose entry is objected to, who is now found possibly, subject to verification of your report, to be part of a bribery FIR?”