In October, Sana gave a statement before a magistrate levelling allegations of corruption against Asthana.
The unprecedented feud between the two top officers of the CBI — Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana — started last year when the induction of officers recommended by Verma was objected by Asthana. Former Delhi Police Commissioner Verma who had no experience in the CBI had recommended some officers from the Delhi Police be inducted in the agency but Asthana, a 1984-batch Gujarat cadre officer, objected to it.
During his tenure, Verma saw material which allegedly indicated Asthana’s role in “at least half-a-dozen” cases which he put forth as an unsigned note in the meeting of Central Vigilance Commission, which was deciding the promotion of Asthana as Special Director, making him number two in the agency. This included details of alleged payoffs to several officers, purportedly including Asthana, from Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech.
The details were found in a diary recovered during searches at places linked to the firm, which is facing bank default cases. Its promoters remain absconding. The Commission took note but cleared Asthana’s promotion as Special Director unanimously. In July last year, the CVC had called Asthana to decide promotions of several officers as Verma was out of the country but the CBI Director denied permission saying Asthana cannot represent him in his absence.
Meanwhile, Asthana who was heading the Special Investigation Team probing sensitive cases such as Vijay Mallya loan default case, Agusta Westland bribery scandal, Moin Qureshi bribery case allegedly involving a former CBI Director, approached the government in July alleging bribe of Rs 2 crore was paid to Verma to help an accused, Sathish Babu Sana. Sana was being probed in a bribery case involving Moin Qureshi. In October, Sana gave a statement before a magistrate levelling allegations of corruption against Asthana. In his statement, he alleged that two businessmen brothers based in Dubai had offered to help him in return of bribe payment of Rs 5 crore.
He claimed that the brothers allegedly had known Asthana who was heading probe against him and also gave details of payment to the two brothers. During surveillance, the CBI claimed to have unearthed WhatsApp exchanges, phone intercepts and details of meetings which allegedly indicated involvement of Asthana with the brothers and senior officers of other intelligence agencies. While all this was happening, a delegation of former ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan met Alok Verma seeking a probe in the Rafale aircraft deal. The government sources expressed unhappiness over the meeting next day.
Meanwhile, the agency on October 15, 2017 registered an FIR against Asthana and next day arrested one of the alleged middleman brothers Manoj Prasad, when he landed in India. On the basis of information, the CBI carried out searches in its own headquarters at the office of Devendra Kumar, the investigating officer of the case involving Sana, on October 20.
On October 22, Kumar was arrested on allegations of “fabricating the statement” of Sana. He approached the Delhi High Court next seeking to quash the FIR against him. On the same days, the Central Vigilance Commission sent a report recommending that both the officers — Verma and Asthana — be divested of powers. Based on the recommendation, the government in a late night development divested both the officers of their powers and sent them on leave.