CBI names its No.2 Rakesh Asthana in bribery case

Rakesh Asthana is accused of accepting a bribe of ₹ 2 crore in a case that also involves businessman Moin Qureshi

The Central Bureau of Investigation has named its second-in-command Rakesh Asthana as an accused in a bribery case along with another agency official and two private persons.

Those named as accused in the FIR (13A/2018) are Mr. Asthana, CBI Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar, Dubai-based investment banker Manoj Prasad and his brother Somesh Prashad. More than ₹3 crore in bribes were paid by the complainant for getting relief in a case against meat exporter Moin Qureshi and others, the agency said.

Searches conducted

The CBI arrested Manoj in the evening of October 16. Searches were also conducted on the Investigating Officer’s premises on Saturday. Earlier, despite repeated questions from the media, the agency had not confirmed the developments.

The case has been registered on the complaint from Satish Sana Babu, a businessman from Hyderabad, who had first been summoned by Devender Kumar, Moin Qureshi case Investigating Officer, in October 2017. The CBI has got his statements recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code twice, on October 4 and 20.

The agency alleges that bribes were taken in five instalments in December 2017 and October 2018 to give a clean chit to the Hyderabad businessman.

As alleged, ₹1 crore was paid on December 10 and ₹1.95 crore on December 13 last; ₹25 lakh on October 10; and      55, 000 dirhams on October 14. The agency has claimed that the complainant’s statement before the magistrate “corroborates” the allegations to the minutest details. “Then, there are WhatsApp conversations and mobile phone location records that confirm the movement of the accused persons. Accused Somesh handled Mr. Asthana’s investments in Dubai and London,” a CBI official said on Sunday.

The CBI said the amended provision of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which mandates prior approval for initiating a probe against senior government functionaries, would not apply in the case of Mr. Asthana.

According to the FIR, the businessman was summoned in the Moin Qureshi case several times for questioning on a ₹50 lakh transaction in 2011. During a trip to Dubai, he met Manoj who allegedly got him in touch with his brother for getting relief from CBI summonses.

The FIR alleges that Somesh, after talking to a CBI official on the phone, demanded ₹3 crore as the initial amount and ₹2 crore after the filing of the charge sheet in the case. Subsequently, the businessman allegedly paid about ₹3 crore through middlemen.

However, on September 25 this year — when he along with his family was to board a flight from Hyderabad to Paris — he was stopped at the airport as a look-out circular had been issued against him. On an inquiry with the case investigating officer, he was told to pay up the rest of the amount, as alleged.

Turf war

The latest move by the CBI is yet another indication of the escalating turf war between the top brass in the top agency: CBI Director Alok Verma and Mr. Asthana.

Even as the news of the new complaint emerged, the CBI sent a team of officials to interrogate some businessmen in Vadodara with regard to expenses made by Mr. Asthana in lavish wedding of his daughter. CBI officials have interrogated around a dozen persons about the wedding reception held in sprawling Laxmi Vilas Palace owned by the Baroda’s erstwhile royal family Gaekwads. “Two officers came and asked me about bookings in our hotel and catering for the reception,” Piyush Shah, a prominent hotelier in Vadodara.

Before the present complaint was filed, Mr. Asthana filed a complaint against the CBI Director before the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), accusing him of interfering in a corruption case involving family members of RJD leader Lalu Prasad. Subsequently, in a statement, the agency denied Mr. Asthana’s charges against the Director and said the Special Director himself was under probe in half-a-dozen cases and was trying to intimidate officials probing his role. The CBI Director is learnt to have written to the CVC on October 18 and 19 about the FIR registered against Mr. Asthana.

In August this year, Mr. Asthana wrote to the Cabinet Secretary “bringing to his notice certain corrupt practices within the CBI.”

This is not for the first time Mr. Asthana is facing bribery allegations. Earlier, his name had surfaced in the Sandesara brothers’ case. The Vadodara-based businessmen Sandesara brothers are now abroad, evading probe and arrests by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate for allegedly defrauding banks of ₹5,200 crore. The CBI is investigating its two former chiefs A.P. Singh and Ranjit Sinha in other cases.

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