The Supreme Court of India Tuesday adjourned the hearing of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Alok Verma’s petition challenging the government of India’s October 23 order divesting him of his duties, after his reply to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)’s inquiry report was leaked. The next hearing is scheduled to be at November 29.
The CVC inquiry report was investigating the corruption leveled against Verma by CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana of accepting a bribe from meat exporter Moin Qureshi.
At the start of the hearing, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi expressed his displeasure to senior counsel Fali S Nariman, who was appearing for Verma, and handed over some documents, saying, “You being a senior member, we have given this to you. Please help us. If you want to take some time and respond, please do. We will hear other cases.”
The papers shown to the lawyer were copies of a report carried by news website The Wire. “How did this leak come out? We don’t know,” Nariman said. “For reasons that need not be recorded, we don’t want hearing,” the Chief Justice said.
Nariman replied that he was also disturbed. “This is unacceptable. I am also disturbed. Summon the person who did it. I worked the whole night,” said the 89-year-old senior lawyer.
The Wire clarified that its story was based on the CBI director’s written response to the vigilance body’s questionnaire, and not his submissions to the court in a sealed cover.
In the last hearing on Friday, the Supreme Court had said Verma has not been given a clean chit in the vigilance report. The report is “complimentary on some charges, not-so-complimentary on some charges and very uncomplimentary on some charges,” the court had told the CBI chief, asking him to respond to the report in a sealed cover by Monday.
A day before the hearing, the court refused to hear a petition filed by CBI DIG Manish Kumar Sinha challenging GoI’s decision to transfer him to Nagpur. Sinha alleged in his petition that National Security Advisor of India Ajit Doval interfered in the investigation against Special Director Rakesh Asthana. He also levelled serious charges against the PMO, Minister of State for Coal and Mines Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary and Law Secretary Suresh Chandra.
In his petition, Sinha claimed that two alleged middlemen involved in the case were close to Doval. He also claimed that Sathish Babu Sana, the complainant in the case, had told him that MoS Chaudhary had been paid “a few crores of rupees” after he had “intervened with the senior officers of CBI through the office of the Minister of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension”.
The petition stated that surveillance had stumbled upon a conversation involving R&AW officer Samant Goel in which he was heard saying that the PMO had managed the CBI issue. That same night, the petition alleged, the entire CBI team involved in the probe against Asthana was removed.
Sinha’s petition claimed that Sana had met CVC K V Chowdhary over the case involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi, and that Law Secretary Suresh Chandra had contacted Sana on November 11 – while the Supreme Court-monitored CVC probe into the CBI battle was on – and tried to influence him.
While Doval was not available for comment on Sinha’s allegations, Haribhai Chaudhary, according to PTI, released a statement, saying “certain absolutely false and baseless allegations have been made against me. I neither know, nor have I met Mr Sathish Babu Sana, who is alleged to have paid me a bribe. I only came to know from various media reports today that an affidavit has been filed in the Hon’ble Supreme Court mentioning this matter. I condemn this malicious attempt to malign my reputation. I welcome any enquiry into this matter and the law should take its own course. If I am proven guilty, I am willing to leave politics.”
Suresh Chandra, on his part, said, “The allegations against me contained in the affidavit and the petition filed before the Supreme Court are false. As a serving government servant, I have reported the matter to the Union Law Ministry and the Attorney General of India for taking appropriate action.” CVC Chowdhary told reporters: “The matter is before the Supreme Court. It will not be appropriate for me to comment.”
In his petition, Sinha said, “As per Manoj Prasad (the alleged middleman arrested in the case against Asthana), Shri Dineshwar Prasad, father of Manoj and Somesh, retired as Joint Secretary, R&AW and has close acquaintance with the present National Security Advisor Shri Ajit K Doval (“NSA”). This was one of the first things Manoj claimed on being brought to CBI HQ and expressed complete surprise and anger as to how CBI could pick him up, despite his close links with the NSA Shri Doval.”
According to the petition, Prasad claimed that recently “his brother Somesh and Samant Goel, helped the NSA Shri Ajit Doval on an important personal matter”. Sinha also claimed that “India opted out of a contest from INTERPOL” for a delegate at Lyon, France with Joint Director AK Sharma as a nominee. “The elections were to be held sometime in 3rd week of November this year. Sometime in September, Shri A K Sharma was to go abroad for a meeting but at the last minute, his trip was abruptly cancelled. It was informed that India is tacitly withdrawing from the contest,” the petition stated.
Sinha claimed in the petition that after an FIR was registered against Asthana on October 15, CBI Director Verma informed the NSA on October 17. “Subsequently on the same night, it was informed that the NSA has informed Shri Rakesh Asthana about registration of FIR. It was informed that Shri Rakesh Asthana reportedly made a request to NSA that he should not be arrested,” the petition said.
He alleged that when investigating officer of the case, A K Bassi, asked for permission to seize the mobile phones of Asthana and for a search to be conducted, “the Director CBI did not give immediate permission and reverted that the NSA has not permitted the same”.
On October 22, the petition stated, the request was put on record to the Director, but it was again not allowed. “Upon being queried, the Director/Petitioner herein replied that he was not getting clearance from the NSA/Shri Doval,” it stated.
Sinha claimed that when searches were conducted at Dy SP Devender Kumar’s house on October 20, the CBI Director asked him to stop it. “…the Applicant …asked the Director, to which the Director replied that this instruction has come from NSA Shri Doval,” the petition stated.
Sinha claimed that after the arrest of Manoj Prasad, Bassi received a call from a DCP of the Special Cell of Delhi police which he did not answer. “Later, another Inspector of Special Cell called up and sought to know if Manoj has been arrested. Enquiries revealed that the query had originated from the Cabinet Secretariat,” the petition stated.
Referring to a monitored conversation of Samant Goel, Sinha alleged that it was the PMO which directed the ouster of the agency’s top officers on October 23.
“On 23.10.2018, the Applicant herein was informed by DIG/DD (SU) that someone spoke to Samant Goel (who was at Chandigarh at that time) and asked to help him to which Samant Goel replied that things have been managed with PMO and everything is fine. The same night the entire investigating team was shifted,” Sinha said in his petition.
The petition alleged bribes were received by MoS Chaudhary.
“Sometime in first fortnight of June 2018, a few crores of rupees was paid to Shri Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, presently Minister of State for Coal and Mines in Government of India. As per Shri Sana, Shri Haribhai had intervened with the senior officers of CBI through the office of the Minister of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension [“MOS (P)”], to whom, apparently, the Director – CBI reports to. The money was paid through one Vipul of Ahmedabad.
These facts were disclosed by Sana to me on 20.10.2018 in the forenoon. I immediately reported the matter to the Director and the AD (A K Sharma),” the petition stated. Sinha’s petition stated that after the Supreme Court ordered that the CVC probe against Verma be completed, attempts were made to influence the key witness and complainant. He alleged repeated attempts were made by Law Secretary Suresh Chandra to reach Sana.
“Shri Sana spoke to him on WhatsApp on the evening of 08.11.2018. The Union Law Secretary Shri Suresh Chandra said that he was in London for some work related to Nirav Modi case, that he was trying to contact him for last 4/5 days in order to convey message of Cabinet Secretary Shri P K Sinha that the Union Government will offer full protection to him, that there will be a drastic change on Tuesday (13th) and that he (Sana) should meet him (Suresh Chandra) on Wednesday(14th),” the petition stated.
Sinha claimed that Sana had earlier met CVC Chowdhary in the Moin Qureshi case and the latter had even checked with Asthana on the evidence against Sana. “Sana also disclosed that he met the CVC Shri K V Chowdhary along with one Gorantla Ramesh (close relative of CVC Shri K V Chowdhary and owner of Delhi Public School Hyderabad, as per Sana) somewhere in Delhi and that they discussed Moin Qureshi’s case. Subsequently, the CVC called Shri Rakesh Asthana to his residence and made inquiries. Shri Rakesh Asthana informed to the CVC that there is not much in evidence against them,” the petition alleged.
Asthana had been accused of indulging in corrupt practices by Verma. The CBI had booked Asthana on allegations of receiving a bribe from an accused probed by him in a case linked to Qureshi.
Verma had appeared before the three-member CVC headed by K V Chowdary and is understood to have given point-wise refusal to all the allegations levelled against him by his deputy.
Last month, an FIR was registered against Asthana and others, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar, who is in CBI custody in an alleged bribery case. After the tussle between the two senior officers became public, the GoI, in a sudden overnight strike on October 23, divested both Verma and Asthana of their duties and sent them on leave.
The very next day, Verma challenged his removal in the top court that issued notices to both the GoI and the CVC. The court had directed the CVC to complete the inquiry against the CBI director within two weeks.
Meanwhile, the court had also barred IPS officer M Nageswara Rao, who has been given interim charge of the CBI, from taking any major decision.