Alok Verma vs Rakesh Asthana: Face-off that dented CBI's image

Officials recalled the tense months when the agency's top officers were at loggerheads.

Published: 08th January 2019 09:04 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th January 2019 09:07 PM   |  A+A-

CBI special director Rakesh Asthana (Left) and CBI chief Alok Verma (Right). | (File | Agencies)

CBI special director Rakesh Asthana (Left) and CBI chief Alok Verma (Right). | (File | Agencies)


NEW DELHI: The feud in CBI's top echelon started in 2017 when Director Alok Verma recommended the induction of some officers but then additional director Rakesh Asthana objected, triggering an unprecedented crisis in India's premier investigating agency.

On Tuesday, as the Supreme Court reinstated Verma, setting aside the Centre's decision to send him on leave and divest him of his powers, officials recalled the tense months when the agency's top officers were at loggerheads.

In 2017, Verma, a former Delhi Police commissioner who had no experience in the CBI, recommended that some Delhi Police officers be inducted into the agency but Asthana, a 1984-batch Gujarat cadre officer who went on to become CBI special director in October of that year, raised objections.

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The unravelling of the troubled relationship, which saw both Verma and Asthana trade allegations of corruptions against each other before they were sent on leave, started from there, the officials said.

The problems between the two became public with Asthana's elevation as a special director on October 23, 2017, exactly a year before he and Verma were divested of their powers and sent on leave.

During his tenure, Verma saw material which allegedly indicated Asthana's role in "at least half-a-dozen" corruption cases.

He put forth his concerns in an unsigned note during his meeting with the Central Vigilance Commission, which was deciding the promotion of Asthana as special director, making him number two in the agency.

The cases included details of alleged payoffs to several officers, purportedly including Asthana, from Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech.

The details were found in a diary recovered during searches at places linked to the firm, which is facing bank default cases, officials said.

Its promoters remain absconding.

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The CVC took note but unanimously cleared Asthana's promotion as special director brushing aside Verma's concerns.

A petition against this was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

In July 2018, the CVC called Asthana to decide promotions of several officers as Verma was out of the country but the CBI director denied him permission, saying the special director cannot represent him in his absence.

The same month, Asthana approached the government alleging that a bribe of Rs 2 crore was paid to Verma to help an accused, Sathish Babu Sana.

Asthana was heading the Special Investigation Team probing the sensitive Vijay Mallya loan default case, Agusta Westland bribery scandal and the Moin Qureshi bribery case allegedly involving a former CBI Director Ranjit Sinha.

Sana was being probed in a bribery case involving Moin Qureshi.

In the first week of October 2018, Sana gave a statement before a magistrate levelling allegations of corruption against Asthana.

In his statement, he alleged that two businessmen brothers based in Dubai had offered to help him in return of a bribe payment of Rs 5 crore.

He claimed the brothers had allegedly known Asthana who was heading the probe against him and also gave details of payment to the two brothers.

During surveillance, the CBI claimed to have unearthed WhatsApp exchanges, phone intercepts and details of meetings, which allegedly indicated the involvement of Asthana with the brothers and senior officers of other intelligence agencies.

While all this was happening, a delegation of former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan met Verma seeking a probe in the Rafale aircraft deal.

Government sources expressed unhappiness over the meeting next day.

On October 15, 2018, the agency registered an FIR against Asthana.

The next day, one of the alleged middleman brothers Manoj Prasad was arrested when he landed in India.

Five days later, on October 20, on the basis of information, the CBI carried out searches in its own headquarters at the office of Devendra Kumar, the investigating officer of the case involving Sana.

On October 22, Kumar was arrested on allegations of "fabricating" Sana's statement.

He approached the Delhi High Court on October 23 seeking to quash the FIR against him.

On the same day, the CVC sent a report recommending that both the officers -- Verma and Asthana -- be divested of their powers.

Based on the recommendation, the government in a late night development divested both the officers of their powers and sent them on leave.

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