Former CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana is likely to be absolved of all charges of corruption levelled in an FIR registered by former agency director Alok Verma. The CBI investigating officer (IO) of the case has prepared a report exonerating Asthana in the case and submitted to his superiors, sources have told The Indian Express.
The IO is SP Satish Dagar, who in August this year applied for voluntary retirement from the agency for “personal reasons”. His application is still under process.
Dagar’s report is currently pending legal opinion within the agency, after which it will be sent to incumbent Director Rishi Kumar Shukla, sources said. Once Shukla gives his assent, a closure report or a chargesheet exonerating Asthana may be filed in a competent court.
Sources said other key accused in the case, middlemen Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad, continue to be under investigation. Sources said their culpability under charges of alleged extortion is under discussion within the agency.
The agency Tuesday filed an application before the Delhi High Court seeking more time to complete the investigation in the case. Earlier, on May 30, the HC had given CBI four months to complete the probe.
The CBI stated in the application that a “status report containing developments made in the investigation is being submitted in a sealed cover” for the court’s consideration. The agency claimed some issues relating to investigation abroad are pending.
An FIR registered by CBI on October 15, 2018, when Verma was director of the agency, had alleged that a suspect in the Moin Qureshi case had been forced to pay Rs 2.95 crore to Asthana through Prasad brothers to water down the case against him. The suspect, Sathish Sana Babu, was made a witness in the case by CBI.
The case played out against the backdrop of a running feud between Verma and Asthana for supremacy within the agency. It led to unprecedented developments with the government swooping down on the agency in a midnight coup on October 23, 2018 and unseating both Asthana and Verma. Since then Verma has been sacked while Asthana has been transferred to the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS).
Sources said after almost a year of investigation under multiple officers, the CBI has concluded there is no evidence to prove that any bribe was ever demanded by or paid to Asthana. “A report to this effect has been submitted with senior officers within the agency and a legal opinion is awaited before a final decision is taken,” the source said.
A detailed questionnaire sent to CBI on Tuesday did not elicit any response.
Sources said no evidence has also been found against DySP Devender Kumar, who was then investigating officer in the Moin Qureshi case and was a member of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) supervised by Asthana. He was the No. 2 accused mentioned in the October 15 FIR against Asthana and had even been arrested by Verma’s team. He is currently out on bail.
The Prasad brothers, who operate out of Dubai, may face some legal trouble as evidence has been found of them having been in touch with Sathish Sana Babu. Sources, however, said no money has been recovered nor any financial trail clearly established as yet. “However, there is electronic evidence of them being in touch with Babu and discussing financial matters,” a source said.
While Somesh is currently in Dubai, Manoj was arrested by CBI in October last year after he arrived from Dubai in Delhi allegedly to collect bribe money from Babu.
The CBI case against Asthana was based on a statement of Babu, recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC, in which he alleged that he was being consistently harassed by CBI in the Moin Qureshi case through multiple interrogations about a Rs 50-lakh investment he had made with Qureshi, a meat exporter who allegedly influenced CBI cases for bribes.
To get out of the wrangle, Babu said, he got in touch with the Prasad brothers who claimed to have been close to Asthana. He said they spoke to someone over the phone and showed purported details of Asthana’s WhatsApp account to convince him they knew him. They demanded Rs 5 crore to settle the case.
On another occasion, Manoj Prasad spoke to Babu over the phone claiming to be sitting in Asthana’s office. Subsequently, in various tranches, the Prasad brothers received Rs 2.95 crore from Babu, he has alleged.
These were the two instances where Asthana was mentioned in Babu’s complaint but the CBI case is that there is no corroborative evidence or financial trail leading to him. Interestingly, Babu had made similar allegations against Verma in a statement given to Asthana’s team.
After the October 23 coup, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) was given the task of investigating the various allegations made by Babu against CBI and its officers. The CVC in its report has already declared Babu as an unreliable witness. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) in July arrested Babu in connection with the Moin Qureshi case. Until then he had been a witness in the case. However, following the CVC report to the Supreme Court, the ED changed its stance vis a vis Babu.
Babu is alleged to have bribed officials through Qureshi for assistance in the Vanpic case which is allegedly linked to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jaganmohan Reddy. During investigations into the Qureshi case, officers stumbled upon Blackberry Messenger communications where he was seen trying to allegedly influence transfers and postings of certain CBI officers.
Sana had come under the scanner for being among the facilitators for the alleged payment of over Rs 5.75 crore to Qureshi to influence a case on behalf of Hyderabad businessman Pradeep Koneru whose father had been summoned by agencies.
Dagar had been probing the case since October 24 when then IO of the case AK Bassi — part of Verma’s team — was transferred to Port Blair in the Andamans. In January, when SC briefly reinstated Verma, Dagar was removed from the case but reinstated after the PM-led committee kicked Verma out of CBI.