Acted against deputy Rakesh Asthana to maintain CBI’s integrity, Alok Verma tells CVC

Rajesh Ahuja Updated: Nov 10, 2018

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 Sandesara group had with a Pune-based 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 Rs 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. ( HT )