Doubts raised by Alok Verma over the role played by Central Vigiliance Commissioner K V Chowdary in the investigation against him leading to his ouster as CBI Director have put the spotlight back on the former Indian Revenue Service Officer.
The high-powered committee that ordered Verma’s removal cited the findings of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to remove Verma. The former CBI director has alleged that Chowdary came to meet him acting as “arbitrator” on behalf of Rakesh Asthana, Verma’s former deputy who levelled the allegations against Verma, and that Chowdary did not reveal this in the CVC report submitted to the Supreme Court. Justice (retd) A K Patnaik, who supervised the CVC report, has also said it had “no evidence of corruption” against Verma.
An ex-IRS officer of the 1978 batch, Chowdary, who was appointed in 2015, is not new to controversies. During Chowdary’s stint as the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) chairman in 2014, the Income Tax had conducted investigations into some diaries seized during raids on the offices of Birla and Sahara companies, which allegedly reflected payments to various politicians, including Narendra Modi during his time as Gujarat Chief Minister.
NGO Common Cause had gone to court alleging a cover-up, while the Opposition had said Sahara got immunity from prosecution in order to screen beneficiaries of the illegal pay-offs. The Indian Express had reported how the Income Tax Settlement Commission granted immunity from prosecution and penalty to Sahara India. However, in January 2017, the Supreme Court had rejected a plea by Common Cause for criminal investigation into the alleged recovery of papers by the CBI and Income Tax, saying democracy would be hampered if a probe was ordered against Constitutional functionaries on the basis of “loose and inadmissible” documents.
At the time of Chowdary’s appointment, lawyer Prashant Bhushan had raised the issue that Chowdary’s name found mention in the visitors’ log maintained at the house of then CBI director Ranjit Sinha, at a time when Chowdary was being investigated by the agency for his alleged role in a Ponzi scheme and the Moin Qureshi probe. Bhushan had also alleged that Chowdary had not acted on evidence available in the case of the Niira Radia tapes, and had extended a tax benefit of Rs 200 crore to late liquor baron Ponty Chadha.
The Supreme Court had, however, upheld Chowdary’s appointment as he had been given a clean chit by the CBI.
Incidentally, former Central Vigilance Commissioner P J Thomas had to resign under similar circumstances in 2011, under then UPA government, because his name had figured in a 20-year-old case — though he had been given a clean chit by both the CBI and Intelligence Bureau.
Chowdary’s appointment as Central Vigilance Commissioner had been surprising, as he was the first non-IAS officer chosen for the post. Bureaucrats in the PMO and the Cabinet Secretariat, mostly IAS, are believed to have resisted the appointment on this ground.
Chowdary is believed to have impressed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with his detailed insight into the Moin Qureshi case. Qureshi’s name had found mention in many election speeches by Narendra Modi in the run-up to the elections that saw him being swept to power.
Chowdary is said to have a phenomenal memory, particularly regarding cases handled by him. Jaitley is said to have been also impressed at his ability to recall details of the HSBC Geneva case, dealing with the list of Indians having cash stashed abroad. Chowdary had been involved in the HSBC investigation first as Director General of I-T (Investigations), Delhi, starting 2011, and then as Member (Investigations) after August 2012.
A soft-spoken man with a polite demeanour, Chowdary always sports a red tilak on his forehead. Inside his office at Satarkata Bhawan, his table is surrounded with photographs of god and goddesses, while one can always hear mantras playing on low volume. He will be in office till October this year, when he turns 65.
Chowdary did not respond to repeated calls and text messages.