CBI vs CBI in India: Ousted chief set for court showdown

Four Intelligence Bureau officials arrested by Delhi Police for suspiciously snooping around the area

New Delhi: One day after Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Verma and his deputy Special Director Rakesh Asthana were relieved of their duties and sent on leave, there was high-voltage drama outside Verma’s Delhi residence where four intelligence officials were roughed up by Verma’s security personnel before being arrested by Delhi Police on suspicion of snooping.

The four intelligence officials had been observed parked outside Verma’s residence in two separate cars since Wednesday morning.

Reacting to the development, the Intelligence Bureau expressed disappointment at the way its officials were “dragged by collars” and described it as “absolutely wrong.”

“Is the Prime Minister’s Office scuttling the probe with the sole aim of preventing the truth of the reported corruption in [the] Rafale fighter jets purchase?”

 — Mallikarjun Kharge | Congress party leader

“The four officials were on patrol. It is upsetting the way they were dragged by their collars,” the Intelligence Bureau said in a statement. “The treatment was absolutely wrong. The matter could have been handled in a better way.”

The agency said it was routine for officials to be posted in sensitive areas given that the Intelligence Bureau has been entrusted with the responsibility of collecting intelligence on situations that could affect internal security and public order.

“It is rubbish to call the action of CBI director as infighting… In our own ranks we have traitors helping. Hence Verma had done the right thing.”

 — Subramanian Swamy | BJP lawmaker and lawyer

“There was no attempt to snoop outside CBI director’s residence. Janpath Road is a high-profile zone and often Intelligence Bureau officials carry out routine duties. One unit of [Intelligence Bureau] officials stopped on [number] 2 Janpath [road] after noticing an unusual collection of people there. This is a high security zone. Unfortunately, their presence was projected otherwise,” the statement added.

Verma and Asthana have accused each other of taking bribes in an investigation involving controversial Uttar Pradesh-based meat exporter Moin Quraishi.

“[Janpath] is a high security zone. Unfortunately, the presence of Intelligence Bureau officers for public order and internal security was projected otherwise.”

 — Statement by India’s Intelligence Bureau

Taking note of the infighting, the government relieved both officials of their duties at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, before appointing M. Nageshwar Rao as the agency’s interim chief.

However, the CBI clarified on Thursday that Verma remained director and Asthana special director, emphasising that Rao was only looking after the duties of the director.

Verma has already alluded to government interference in sensitive cases. In a petition filed in the Supreme Court, Verma challenged the government order against him.

“Alok Verma being sent on leave at a crucial time is motivated… The appointment of a corrupt officer as interim head of #CBI is equally questionable.”

 — MK Stalin | DMK party president

On Thursday, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said Verma’s plea merited urgent hearing and would be taken up on Friday.

Verma argued that the government order was in violation of the law, which provides for a fixed tenure of two years for the director of CBI, and moved the court to issue a stay of the order against him.

“The transfer of a CBI director has to be with the consent of the high-powered committee. The order sending him on leave has bypassed the mandate of the committee,” Verma said in his petition.

“The CBI has now become the so-called BBI — the BJP Bureau of Investigation. This is really very unfortunate.”

 — Mamata Bannerjee | West Bengal chief minister

On Thursday, the Supreme Court also said that it would consider granting an urgent hearing to Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into allegations of corruption against various other CBI officials.

A court bench, headed by Chief Justice Gogoi himself, allowed the submission of senior lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan. Appearing for a non governmental organisation ‘Common Cause’, Bhushan said there were wider issues of corruption affecting the CBI and the PIL that needed to be heard urgently.

Meanwhile, a Delhi court extended the detention of Manoj Prasad, currently in CBI custody, by five days. Prasad was arrested in connection with bribery allegations against Asthana.

According to the CBI’s First Information Report (FIR), Prasad, an investment banker based in Dubai, was hired by businessman Sathish Sana to pay the bribe of Rs50 million (Dh2.5 million) to Asthana to get rid of a corruption case against him.

Prasad was arrested by CBI’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) on October 16 when he came to India to deliver the agreed bribe amount.

Later, the CBI named Asthana and another agency officer, Devender Kumar, in the bribery case related to Sana, whose name had incidentally emerged during investigations in the ongoing case of Quraishi.

Meanwhile, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for divesting Verma of his powers.

“The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is making [the] CBI a weapon of political vendetta. The action was taken in the dead of the night so that director Alok Verma’s office could be sealed and incriminating documents on the Rafale fighter jet deal could be destroyed. Verma was collecting documents related to the Rafale deal,” Gandhi said.


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