In the ongoing battle between the top two officials of the CBI, The Indian Express has learnt that the CBI’s FIR against own Number 2 Rakesh Asthana followed an investigation which officially started after Hyderabad-based businessman Sana Sathish Babu gave his statement to a Delhi magistrate on October 4. The investigation is being led by CBI Joint Director A K Sharma.
Sana was being investigated in the Moin Qureshi case by the CBI’s special investigation team (SIT), headed by Asthana. On October 20, he gave another statement before the magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC corroborating the details of his earlier statement.
Besides Asthana, FIR No. 13A/2018 lists Devender Kumar, the CBI’s Investigating Officer under Asthana, Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad as accused. Although the complaint also mentions Special Secretary of R&AW Samant Kumar Goel, he is not an accused in the case.
Sources said the CBI followed the trail of some saved WhatsApp messages retrieved from Manoj Prasad, a Dubai-based middlemen. Manoj was arrested by the agency from Delhi airport on Tuesday. Somesh is Manoj’s relative.
In his statement before the magistrate, Sana said, “Somesh Prasada… gave me a call the next day around evening 5:30 pm from his Singapore number and he said ‘you listen, I am sitting before one officer, that officer… made me hear to a conversation on another call by that officer, where the said officer was telling about my issues and said ‘please take care of Satish Sana matter’.”
Sana alleged that the officer was Asthana. The WhatsApp message saved in Manoj’s phone allegedly corroborated Sana’s statement.
One message from Somesh to Manoj, on December 18, 2017, reportedly says, “Tell him I will make him listen from the big boy himself what he has to say about him.” The cellphone location of Somesh and Asthana at this particular time allegedly confirmed that the two were at the same place, the CBI’s investigation reportedly shows.
As per the FIR, the bribe amounts were received in December 2017 and October 2018. As per Sana’s statement, money was paid through Manoj five times. While Rs 1 crore was allegedly paid in Dirhams in Dubai on December 10, 2017, Rs 1.95 crore was paid in Delhi three days later. On October 10, 2018, Rs 25 lakh were paid in Delhi, while two tranches of 25,000 and 30,000 Dirhams were allegedly paid in Dubai four days later.
Sana is the owner of Playboy Club in Hyderabad. During the 2013 IT raids on controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi, Sana’s BBM conversations with him had been widely reported in connection with the influence that Qureshi reportedly wielded in transfers and postings within the CBI.
In his statement to the CBI and before a magistrate, Sana said that beginning October 9, 2012, he had been summoned multiple times to the CBI office for interrogation by SIT officer Devender Kumar, who came under Asthana. He was quizzed about his association with Qureshi and asked if he had paid Rs 50 lakh to Qureshi to settle the Vanpic case (allegedly linked to YSRC chief Jagan Mohan Reddy). He said he had denied it multiple times and said the payment was an investment in one of Qureshi’s companies.
Sana said that on December 12, 2017, he went to Dubai for a business meeting and there met Manoj, an old acquaintance. According to him, Manoj offered to help him through his connections within the CBI, and introduced him to Somesh. Sana said Somesh told him it would cost him Rs 5 crore to get out of the case.
Sana said Somesh had called up a CBI officer in front of him and explained the case. “Upon enquiries by me… he showed me the DP of his WhatsApp contact picture as available on his phone, stating that this was the officer he spoke to… Somesh disclosed the identity of this officer… as Rakesh Asthana. …I checked the picture of Rakesh Asthana on Google and found it to be the same as on Somesh’s phone.”
Subsequently, Sana said, he paid Rs 1 crore to Manoj in Dubai and further Rs 1.95 crore to a contact on December 13, 2017, in the parking lot of the Press Club on Raisina Road in Delhi.
After the payment, Sana said, on December 15 or 16, Somesh called him up claiming to be in the office of Asthana, and made him listen to a conversation about his case allegedly being settled. Following this, Sana said, he came back to India on December 21, 2017.
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Sana claims to have not received any more summons after making the payment, until February 13, 2018, when he was called by the CBI again for questioning. Sana said that when he enquired from Manoj why, though he had paid up, he was informed that he was yet to give the remaining Rs 2 crore.
Sana said that after the CBI questioning, he flew to Dubai, and that on February 20, Manoj told him Asthana would also be there and he could meet the CBI officer. Sana said he told Manoj he did not wish to meet Asthana and was only interested in getting his work done.
Sana said he had a few more sessions with the CBI, but was then left alone until September 25, when immigration prevented him from boarding an Emirates Airlines flight while on his way to Paris. This was done on the basis of a Look Out Circular against him.
Sana said he was subsequently again examined by Devender Kumar, his SP Jagroop and Joint Director Sai Manohar, who charged him with being a director in six of Qureshi’s companies. Sana said he again clarified his position, but was told by the middlemen later that until he paid up all the amount, he would keep getting harassed.
After he promised to deliver, Sana said, he was left alone. On October 10, he allegedly paid Rs 25 lakh to a contact of Manoj in Delhi and transferred 55,000 dirhams to Manoj’s account in Dubai. When he couldn’t arrange any more money, Sana said, he approached a court to record his statement. Subsequently he approached the CBI with a complaint and again recorded his statement before a magistrate.
Meanwhile, the CBI arrested Manoj when he arrived from Dubai to allegedly receive the rest of the bribe money.
The CBI FIR also claims that the middlemen involved were closely associated with R&AW officer Goel. Notably, it was Goel’s input about an ISI agent having made a call to Enforcement Director Joint Director Rajeshwar Singh that had led the Supreme Court to lift the protection it had granted the 2G case investigator from probes against him.
CBI sources said that amended provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which call for permission of the government before prosecuting an officer, do not apply in this case as it is related to cash bribery.
In a statement on Sunday, CBI spokesperson Abhishek Dayal said, “Shri Sana was called to the CBI for examination/inquiry on multiple occasions in October/November 2017. During October/November 2017, there were four instances in which notices were given to Shri Sana. In order to get relief from frequent notices, Shri Sana approached one Shri Manoj Prasad in Dubai in the month of December 2017. Rs 2.95 crore was paid to the public servants through Shri Manoj Prasad and Shri Somesh Prasad and Shri Sana was able to obtain relief in the on-going investigation in the Moin Quereshi case. Subsequently, there were no notices issued to him till mid of February 2018. On 19th February, 2018, again notice was issued to Shri Sana. Sana flew to Dubai and met Manoj Prasad. Subsequently, there were no notices issued till end of May/early June 2018.”
(With ENS, Delhi)