In a development with wide ramifications, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has booked its Special Director Rakesh Asthana in a bribery scandal, naming him as an accused in an FIR filed earlier this week. Asthana is No. 2 in the CBI hierarchy. The FIR has also named Samant Kumar Goel, Special Director of India’s external intelligence agency (R&AW), but not as an accused. CBI filed the FIR on Tuesday. It named Asthana as Accused Number 1 for demanding and taking bribe from a businessman who was under investigation in the Moin Qureshi corruption case by a special investigation team (SIT) headed by Asthana.
According to sources, CBI has put telephone intercepts, WhatsApp messages, money trail and a statement before the magistrate under Section 164. Text messages sent to Asthana seeking a reaction went unanswered. Exposing faultlines within, the CBI on September 21, had said that it had informed the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) that it was investigating Asthana in six cases of corruption. The CBI has also said Asthana was maligning Director Alok Verma’s image and trying to “intimidate” officials by sending a “frivolous” complaint to the CVC against Verma.
Reacting to this, Asthana wrote to the government with a complaint against Verma, saying that the Director had sought to impede his functioning, interfere in investigations and malign his reputation.
The CBI moved against Asthana after the arrest of Dubai-based middleman Manoj Prasad on a complaint from Hyderabad-based businessman Sana Satish whose role was being investigated by the CBI SIT under Asthana in the Qureshi corruption case. Qureshi was raided by the Income-Tax department in February 2014, and his BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) messages with former CBI Director A P Singh led to Singh’s resignation as member of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
Three years later, a case was registered by the CBI in February 2017. This was one of the many important cases being handled by the SIT headed by Asthana.
Satish gave a statement before the Magistrate on October 4, naming Asthana, Prasad and Prasad’s relative, Somesh Srivastava, and gave details of how he had paid Rs 3 crore over a period of 10 months from December 2017 to stay away from the CBI case. Satish claimed he was harassed by CBI officers to pay more. On the instructions of Manoj Prasad, Rs 25 lakh were allegedly paid on October 9 to a conduit to get relief from appearing before the SIT for questioning. After he got relief, Prasad travelled from Dubai to Delhi in the morning to collect Rs 1.75 crore on October 16, where he was apprehended by the CBI team.
The FIR states that Goel, R&AW’s No. 2, was well known to, and had been in regular touch with, Manoj and Somesh. He has not been named as an accused, but his role in the case remains under investigation by the CBI, sources said.