War between CBI’s top 2 downs morale of India’s premier investigating agency

Vicky Nanjappa

New Delh, Oct 22: Everything is not right within India's premier agency the Central Bureau of Investigation. The spat between the CBI director, Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana refuses to die down.

Last month Verma had gone on to accuse Asthana of intimidating officers who were probing corruption cases against him. Now in another development, the CBI named its special director, Asthana as an accused in a bribery scandal.

The case on hand relates to the one against Moin Qureshi, a meat exporter who has been under the scanner of both the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED). Both Asthana and Verma have not been on the same page where this case is concerned. Recently both had disagreed on a particular file in this case. The disagreement was over whether the proposal of the CBI officials to seek custodial interrogation of four accused should be sent to the CBI's Director of Prosecution or not.

Verma felt that the file should be examined by the DoP, while Asthana was opposed to the idea.

Also Read | Meat exporter Moin Qureshi arrested by ED

War of the top 2:

In September, Verma had rejected allegations that he had tried to thwart investigations into important cases which included the one concerning the IRCTC scam in which former Bihar chief minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav is an accused.

Asthana had dashed off a later to the Central Vigilance Commission in which allegations against Verma had been made. Verma responded through the CBI's spokesperson and said that it is unfortunate that baseless allegations are being made without proper verification of facts.

Verma, it may be recalled had resisted Asthana's elevation as special director on the ground of alleged corruption. Asthana was however given a clean chit by the CVC and the same was also approved by the Supreme Court. The matter however did not end there and Verma objected to the CVC's decision of recognising the special director as the officiating head of the agency in his absence.

The CBI spokesperson had said, it is stated that the CVC has sought for certain case files from CBI on the basis of a complaint filed by the special director, CBI. In its response to the CVC letter, the chief vigilance officer of CBI has pointed out that the complaint is an attempt by the complainant (Asthana) to intimidate the officers of CBI who are investigating his role in at least half a dozen cases. The CBI said the CVC should opine on the maintainability of the complaint and consider it malicious in order to protect the integrity of the organisation."

Also Read | CBI names its No. 2 man Asthana as accused No. 1 in bribery case

Spat kills morale:

This fresh spat between the top two of the country's premier agency has been a downer for many within the agency. Some officials that OneIndia spoke with say that this is not good for the agency. The morale is clearly down and in such spats, officers often end up taking sides.

In the long run this sort of an environment would only hamper investigations. There would be two sides within the agency and the power tussle would severely hamper the agency's functioning the official also said.

When asked if the government could step in and sort out the problem, an officer said it could, but the role would be limited. The Home Ministry at best could advise the officers to set aside differences and more importantly stop going public. The SC has clearly marked the jurisdiction of the CBI and has often spoken about its autonomy.

Also Read | How the ugly spat between the CBI's top 2 is hurting India's premier agency

Fresh trouble:

New trouble emerged between the top two after the CBI named Asthana for allegedly demanding and taking bribe from a businessman who was under investigation in the Moin Qureshi corruption case by a special investigation team headed by Asthana.

It may be recalled that the CBI had informed the Central Vigilance Commission that it was probing Asthana in six cases of corruption.

The CBI moved against Asthana following the arrest of a Dubai based middleman Manoj Prasad. Moin Qureshi was raided by the Income Tax department in 2014 and his messages with former CBI director A P Singh had led to Singh's resignation as member of the Union Public Services Commission. In 2017, the CBI registered a case and this was one of the many major cases being handled by Asthana.

A complainant in the case, Sana Satish had on October 4 named Asthana before the Magistrate. He also claimed that he was being harassed by CBI officers to pay more. It was also detained how Rs 3 crore had been paid over a period of 10 months from December 2017 onwards.

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