Close to three weeks after Chhattisgarh Police arrested senior journalist Vinod Verma on charges of extortion, the CBI took over the case on Thursday. Verma was picked up from his residence in Ghaziabad early October 27 on charges that he had a “sex CD” of Chhattisgarh PWD Minister Rajesh Munat, which, the police alleged, he used to extort money and intended to disseminate in Ghaziabad and Raipur.
The CBI will also look into another FIR lodged by Munat, in which he alleges violations of the IT Act by Verma and Congress state unit chief Bhupesh Baghel. In the days after Verma’s arrest, the Opposition had contended that the case against Verma was fabricated.
The police story begins with an FIR registered by Prakash Bajaj, a BJP member in Raipur who alleged that he was receiving calls on his home landline number, with the caller allegedly saying that he had “ashleel (vulgar) videos” of Bajaj’s “aakas (seniors)” and that if Bajaj didn’t pay money, he would disseminate the CD.
The FIR, registered at 3.35 pm on October 26, names no one and mentions no ransom amount. Hours later, around 3.30 am on October 27, a team of Chhattisgarh Police, including senior Crime Branch officers, were at Verma’s home, where they recovered “a laptop, pen drives, and copies of 500 CDs”.
In the 12 hours between when the FIR was filed and Verma arrested, the Chhattisgarh Police said, a team “that was already in Delhi to investigate a chain snatching case” tracked down a shop in Ghaziabad called Supertone Digital, owned by one Ishu Narang, who alleged that Verma had ordered 1,000 CDs from him. Narang is yet to be arrested.
While police are yet to state whether the CD in question is “genuine”, with senior police officers saying that they were awaiting forensic test reports, Verma’s lawyer Faisal Rizvi argued that the genuineness of the CD was “not the question”. “The point is whether Vinod Verma has been framed by the police. And everything in this case points to this,” he said.
Rizvi also alleged that the 500 CDs police allegedly found at Verma’s Mahagun Apartments were “planted” and that all he had was a laptop and a pen drive that were taken away.
The footage shows a group of men entering the flat and exiting close to 20 minutes later with Verma, his son and wife. One officer seems to be carrying a half-open box. “It is this box which the police say carry the CDs. But this was the cardboard box that came with a tap the family had bought for the bathroom. There are no CDs inside,” Rizvi claimed.
Senior police officers, however, pointed to a video clip of Verma being brought out of Indirapuram police station, in which he is seen shouting to reporters that “I have a CD of Rajesh Munat”. To this, Rizvi said, “This is being mischievously put. There were lots of senior reporters there who Vinod Verma knew. They asked him, ‘what are the charges against you?’ To which he responded ‘that I have a sex CD of Rajesh Munat’. If you look at the footage, at another point he says, ‘only a pen drive’.”
While the other sections against Verma including criminal intimidation and criminal conspiracy, Section 384 of the IPC, which deals with extortion, is non-bailable. In the press conference on October 27, when police were asked if they had identified the man who made the alleged extortion calls as Verma, they responded in the negative. A senior Raipur police officer said, “We are yet to ascertain whether Verma made the call or instructed someone to do it. It is a sensitive case and we don’t want to get things wrong.”
The defence, however, points to this as evidence of how Verma was framed, alleging that if police had no idea yet if Verma made the call, there was no basis for an extortion charge.
The case diary submitted by the police to the lower court and sessions court says that another man, identified as Vijay Bhatia, allegedly an aide of Congress president Bhupesh Baghel, was also in the NCR at the time, and that police recovered 500 CDs from him. Bhatia, the police told the sessions court, was on the run.
Yet, documents accessed by The Indian Express show that on October 27, a police team raided Bhatia’s home and left behind a written statement to the family that they had failed to recover any CDs or CD writer from the raid. Then on November 9, Bhatia wrote a letter to the SP of Bhilai, claiming that while he had read in news reports that he was “on the run”, he had in fact returned home and met the team that raided his house on October 27.
Dipanshu Kabra, Inspector General (Durg Range) told The Indian Express, “Yes, we raided his house, and nothing was found on the premises. But our men have not met him.”