The income tax probe into the alleged tax evasion by meat exporter Moin Qureshi has taken a new turn as investigators are said to have found Blackberry Messenger (BBM) exchanges between Qureshi and former CBI director A P Singh, raising questions of propriety and possible conflict of interest.
Singh was CBI chief from 2010 to 2012, and was appointed member of the Union Public Service Commission in 2013 for a five-year term. He told The Indian Express that he had indeed exchanged messages with Qureshi on BBM, but termed them as “innocuous’’ and “non-incriminatory’’.
The messages, accessed by The Indian Express, indicate Singh and Qureshi knew each other well and that Singh allowed Qureshi to seek “help”, including on behalf of people being probed by the CBI.
Among others things, the messages show Qureshi apparently sought Singh’s help in connection with a business project linked to a top industrialist, for getting security clearance from the Intelligence Bureau director, and to reach out to union minister Kamal Nath for a Golf Club membership.
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On his part, Singh, the messages indicate, leaned on Qureshi for buying an assortment of items for his house, as well as some personal effects such as carpets, furniture, garden umbrellas and spectacles.
The BBM exchanges have been a key focus of the income tax probe since February when Qureshi was raided and his mobile phone confiscated. A second round of raids were conducted in Punjab last week, sources said.
Finance ministry officials alleged that they have found Qureshi had evaded taxes to the tune of Rs 157 crore.
His suspected deposits in foreign accounts in Dubai, Hong Kong, the US and London are being examined along with 20 lockers sealed in Delhi.
Sources said investigators Singh came to their attention after they allegedly recovered his official letterheads and visiting cards as well as attested copies of his identity cards during the raids. A forensic examination of Qureshi’s phone found he had exchanged dozens of BBMs with Singh when he was CBI chief and also after he became a UPSC member.
For instance, in October 2011, Singh received this BBM from Qureshi: “Sir the petition I gave you last nite please help T S Narayanaswamy ex-chairman Bank of India who is known to our family for 30 years. Others I don’t know. Thanks and Regards.”
The CBI was at the time investigating Narayanaswamy for his alleged role in extending bank credit to a pharma company based in Delhi, Rajat Pharmachem Ltd, which allegedly defrauded public sector banks including Bank of India to the tune of Rs 800 crore.
In his reply, Singh said via BBM: “Checked. Chargesheet already filed. Now he has to approach the courts for relief.”
Reached for his comment about his name figuring in an exchange between Qureshi and the then CBI chief, Narayanaswamy told The Indian Express: “I don’t know Qureshi. I might have met him at some party. But I cannot recall. I have certainly not asked anybody to plead on my behalf.”
Another BBM exchange indicates Singh’s help was sought for a project Qureshi apparently intended to do with GMR group.
“GMR met me yesterday and said that delay was entirely because of you. Project was to be finalized by 30th Sept. FYI…,” Singh messaged Qureshi, referring to G M Rao, chairman of the GMR group.
Qureshi replied: “Ok Sir. Will check. With Salve. We have given all papers to GMR. We have one week left. Thanks & Regards.”
Another message from Singh said: “GMR is coming to the house tomorrow evening to discuss M&G. So if u r in town pl join us otherwise update on latest.”
In the days preceding the income tax raid, Qureshi sought Singh’s help in getting IB clearance for this project and messaged: “Sir I am out. The file is on DIB table. Now he has said he will clear it in the coming week. Lets see what happens.” Singh replied to Qureshi saying. “Ok. Will tell GMR”.
In another message, he referred to former IB director (DIB) Nehchal Sandhu and said, “Nehchal will do whatever captain tells him to do.”
Singh told The Indian Express that this exchange was in connection with a ‘meet and greet’ shop Qureshi wanted to set up at the Delhi airport and he was only extending help to a friend. He also stressed that there was no issue of conflict of interest even though the agency, during his term as director, was probing two cases in which GMR’s name figured – the Jaganmohan Reddy disproportionate assets case and a coal block allotment case.
On his letterheads and business cards being found during raids on Qureshi, Singh said he had given them to Qureshi for printing a few days before he retired as Qureshi is a friend. Referring to Qureshi’s message in connection with Narayanaswamy, he said anyone could give a petition and “I said I can’t do anything”.
Reached for comment, a GMR spokesperson said in an email response: “A letter of intent was awarded by DIAL to the JV company formed in India by Marhaba. As per regulatory requirement, the company then applied for security clearance to the relevant agencies…to enable them to start their operations. Since their security clearance was not forthcoming DIAL kept on pursuing the matter with them to expedite the process. In this context, former director, CBI, requested GMR to consider possible extension for some more time. After giving them a nominal extension, DIAL finally terminated the contract with Marhaba in April 2014.”
Reached for his comment, Sandhu said: “A P Singh did bring this matter of meet and greet to my notice. I told him I have no means to do anything. Nor did I do anything in this matter. I have never met Qureshi. Probably this might have led them to think, Captain Amarinder Singh, whom I know from Chandigarh from the 1980s, could pursue me.”
In another exchange a few months before Singh’s tenure at CBI was to end, Qureshi said: “I got a call from Kamal Naths office regarding my membership to the golf club. Saying that I am your friend, that will further help.”
Nath was Union minister at the time and the CBI was investigating alleged irregularities in the National Highway Authority of India which was under his charge.
Singh replied: “Just met him. He has agreed to give you a slot.”
Qureshi was among 30 people who got out of turn memberships at the elite Delhi Golf Club.
Qureshi and Nath did not respond to requests for their comments.