NEWS
01/11/2018 2:14 PM IST | Updated 01/11/2018 2:22 PM IST

CBI Feud: Interim Director Protecting Modi's Man Asthana, Scuttling Investigation, Transferred Officials Claim

Officers acting on corruption complaint against former Special Director Asthana say they were transferred to scuttle the investigation.

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The logo of India's Central Bureau of Investigation.

NEW DELHI — At least two officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), from among the 13 who were transferred soon after the Interim Director M Nageswara Rao took charge, say they were transferred to protect controversial Special Director Rakesh Asthana.

Asthana and Director Alok Verma were sent on leave on October 23.

In separate court petitions, Additional SP Surinder Singh Gurm and Deputy SP Ajay Kumar Bassi say the CBI is "diluting" the investigation into a complaint accusing Asthana and a few others of extortion and corruption. Gurm was the officer who filed the First Information Report (FIR) on the basis of the extortion complaint and Bassi was the Investigating Officer who probed the accusations made in it.

On Wednesday, Gurm filed an application in the Delhi High Court seeking to become a party in a petition filed by Asthana earlier. Asthana's petition prayed for the FIR against him to be quashed arguing that it was registered in "gross violation of the principles of natural justice and furthermore based on no evidence whatsoever."

Gurm, on his part, has accused Asthana of "seeking to mislead" the High Court, adding that "the CBI, through its deliberate acts of Omission and Commission" would provide "indirect support and assistance" to Asthana in his attempt to get the FIR against himself quashed.

Gurm's assertions echoed those made by Deputy SP Bassi, the investigating officer, in his Supreme Court application earlier this week. Bassi told the court he has been subjected to "intimidation and veiled threats" from the new investigating officer Satish Dagar, who took charge after Bassi was transferred.

Bassi said Dagar "has been instructed to ensure that Shri Rakesh Asthana is ultimately provided the clean chit" and that officers like Bassi are "implicated for performing their duties with honesty and integrity." He also requested for an Supreme Court-monitored probe led by an independent and neutral Special Investigations Team (SIT).

The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court are yet to adjudicate upon these petitions, both of which seek to intervene in ongoing petitions filed by Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana. The CBI's official spokesperson Abhishek Dayal refused to comment on Gurm's and Bassi's applications since the matter is sub-judice.

"Our main apprehension is that, at the end of the day, this FIR is going to be twisted in such a manner that Mr Asthana — against whom there is material — is going to go scot free and the people who were entrusted with the investigation are ultimately going to be implicated into this," Sunil Fernandes, a lawyer representing both Bassi and Gurm told HuffPost India. "This is our apprehension today, on day one, so we are not waiting for some event to happen in future. We want to raise the alarm and apprehensions on day one itself."

Ever since Gurm and Bassi were transferred, Fernandes said, "The direction in which the investigation is going has witnessed a total U turn."

He pointed out that, since the FIR was registered against Asthana, any investigating officer would have to investigate Asthana.

However, Fernandes claimed, "the new investigating officer has changed the direction of the investigation. He is no longer investigating Mr Asthana and the other accused persons in that FIR. But he is investigating the earlier investigating officer like Mr. Bassi and other CBI officers and accusing them that they have registered this 'false' FIR to implicate Mr. Asthana."

Further, he added, that his clients feel "all the crucial evidence and documents collected will somehow not be utilised or would be ignored." Thus, Bassi's application in SC has sought a court-monitored probe by an independent SIT.

In his petition to the SC earlier this week, Bassi shared astonishing details from his investigation including tapped phone conversations between people who are accused of facilitating the demand and acceptance of a bribe to Asthana from Hyderabad-based Businessman Satish Sana.

Among these people are: Somesh Prasad, accused of being one of two middle men, his father-in-law Sunil Mittal as well as a senior Research and Analysis Wing officer Samant Goel. In one conversation, Prasad is quoted as telling Mittal, "Asthana to apna aadmi hai (Asthana is our man)" and in another, Goel is quoted as telling Prasad, "Do not come to India at any cost."

These are among several other conversations with Bassi believes may be tampered with or destroyed. The apex court is yet to adjudicate upon this and the CBI has maintained silence officially in this probe, even as the Central Vigilance Commission carries out its own probe in the matter.