The growing chill between Central Bureau of Investigation’s Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana escalated on September 21, after the agency stated that Asthana was being probed in six cases of alleged corruption by the CBI and that his recent complaint to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) alleging Verma’s conduct was “malicious and frivolous”, and an attempt to “intimidate” agency officers.
Alleging interference in the investigations undertaken by the special investigation team under him, Asthana had complained to the CVC against Verma. He had alleged that the CBI director had stopped raids on Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav in the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) scam.
However, the CBI made its stand clear on the IRCTC case. It stated that the allegation of “preventing raids against the accused in the IRCTC case was absolutely false. The investigation of the case has resulted in the filing of a chargesheet before the designated court. This could not have been possible without the explicit approval of the Director of the CBI.”
The six cases in which Asthana’s role is being questioned includes the high profile Rs. 5,000 crore Sterling Biotech case involving the Sandesara brothers - the CBI FIR says there existed a “Diary 2011”, which has at least two entries in Asthana’s name. In another instance, Asthana, while he was the additional director of the CBI, had tried to allegedly deflect income tax proceedings against Sandesara.
The tussle between Verma and Asthana came to light in October 2017 when the CBI director had opposed the promotion of Asthana to the post of Special Director through a representation to the CVC. In his representation, Verma stated that during investigations of the Sterling Biotech case, evidence had surfaced of alleged irregularities by Asthana.
In July this year, when the CVC communicated with Verma if Asthana could represent him as director (as Verma was abroad to attend an Interpol conference at Punta del Este in Uruguay) in a CBI selection committee meeting, Verma rejected the proposal stating the allegations against Asthana in several cases.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, on behalf of the NGO Common Cause, had sought the Supreme Court to quash the appointment of Asthana as Special Director - which was set aside by the apex court. Bhushan in a press conference had alleged that Asthana had been paid about Rs. 3.8 crore by the Sandesara company.
Quoting sources, The Indian Express in July had reported that the reason for the squabble between the two officers is the “fact that certain recommendations made by Verma for induction of some officers into the CBI were not accepted by the government.”
Despite such numerous allegations, Asthana, who is considered a close aide of the Prime Minister, is slated to become the Director of the CBI in January next year. Asthana is a 1984 batch Indian police service officer. The list of high profile cases which he had supervised also includes the Godhra case when the Sabarmati Express was burned in February 2002.