New Delhi: In an unprecedented move, the CBI has booked its Special Director Rakesh Asthana for allegedly receiving bribes from middlemen to give relief to a businessman being probed by him in a case involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi, officials said Sunday.
The CBI action comes two months after Asthana, the second in command in the CBI, wrote to cabinet secretary on August 24 alleging that the businessman had paid CBI director Alok Verma Rs 2 crore to get relief in the case.
The matter was referred to the Central Vigilance Commission which is looking into the allegations.
While allegations and counter allegations were coming thick and fast from the camps of CBI number one and two, the agency booked Asthana under charges of criminal conspiracy, corruption and criminal misconduct in a first-of-its-kind case.
Besides Asthana, the agency has booked Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar, and Manoj Prasad and Somesh Prasad, the purported middlemen, and other unknown officials.
They have been booked under Section 7 (public servant taking gratification other than legal remuneration in respect of an official act) and Section 13 (2) read with Section 13(1)(d) (criminal misconduct) of Prevention of Corruption Act.
They have been slapped with the amended Section 7-A of the Prevention Corruption Act (taking undue advantage to influence public servant by corrupt or illegal means or by exercise of personal influence).
The CBI informed that under these sections, no prior permission under Section 17 of the Prevention of Corruption Amendment Act is needed from the government to initiate probe against an officer.
The FIR was registered by the Anti-corruption unit of the CBI based on claims made in the complaint given by Sathish Babu Sana, Hyderabad-based businessman, who had narrated his meetings with various middlemen in New Delhi as well as Dubai before a magistrate.
He has alleged that an investment banker Manoj Prasad had assured him that he would get relief from CBI summons if he agrees to pay Rs 5 crore as bribe, the complaint, now part of FIR, alleged.
Sana has also alleged that he was assured by Prasad that his brother Somesh manages investments of Asthana in London and he is in touch with two other senior officers of various agencies.
The Hyderabad-based businessman had recorded a statement under Section 164 of criminal procedure code before a magistrate on October 4 and October 16.
The statement recorded before the magistrate are considered a confessional statement and in case the complainant withdraws from it, the prosecuting agency is well within its rights to file a perjury case.
Prasad was arrested by the agency on October 16, when he was returning from Dubai to allegedly collect an instalment of the bribe.
According to the CBI, it has detected five alleged payments to middlemen by Sana, Rs 1 crore on December 10, 2017, Rs 1.95 crore on December 13, 2017, Rs 25 lakh on October 10, 2018 and two tranche of 25,000 Dirham and 3,000 Dirhan on October 14, 2018.
The agency has also alleged that it has details of file movements and periodic relief given to Sana on the payment of each instalment of bribe which show a pattern of favours to the businessman, they said.
The CBI claims that it has corroborated alleged payment with phone intercepts, WhatsApp messages recovered from the phone of middleman Manoj, and tower locations to buttress its charges.
The complaint filed by Sana mentioned that one of the middlemen made him to listen to a voice and later told him that it was Asthana, senior officer in the CBI.
However, there was no direct meeting between Sana and Asthana mentioned in the statement.
Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Asthana is heading the Special Investigating Team handling crucial cases such as AgustaWestland chopper scam and loan fraud by business tycoon Vijay Mallya. The team is also probing the Moin Qureshi case.
Asthana in an exhaustive letter to the cabinet secretary on August 24 had given a list of 10 instances of alleged corruption by Verma in which it was alleged that Sana paid the CBI chief Rs 2 crore to get clean chit in the case, government sources said.
This complaint was referred to the Central Vigilance Commission which is probing the matter, they said.
Asthana has again written to the Central Vigilance Commissioner on October 19 four days after the FIR was registered informing him that he wanted to arrest and interrogate Sana, for which a proposal was sent to the director on September 20, 2018, they said.
In the letter, he has also referred to his communication to cabinet secretary on August 24 in which details of alleged irregularities against the director were given.
He said the director allegedly held the file for nearly four days and marked to the Director of Prosecution (DoP) on September 24, 2018 who demanded all evidence available on record, the sources said.
It was the team under Asthana which had opened a lookout circular against Sana who attempted to flee the country but could not because of the pre-emptive action, they said.
Asthana has said that the file was again placed before the director on October 3 with answers to the queries raised by the DoP but it has not been returned till date, the sources said.
Sana was questioned by the SIT on October 1, 2018 where he stated that he had met a politician, who after meeting Verma, had assured him that his name would be cleared from the case, they said citing submissions of Asthana.