In a stunning development on Saturday, it was revealed that the CBI had registered an FIR against its own Special Director Rakesh Asthana for allegedly accepting Rs 2 crore bribe to settle a case against meat exporter Moeen Qureshi.
Last yea, the Supreme Court had dismissed a petition filed by lawyer Prashant Bhushan after he made stunning revelations around the already questionable integrity of Asthana. In his additional affidavit submitted before the Supreme Court, Bhushan had said that Asthana’s ‘arbitrary’ appointment as the Special Director to the CBI was illegal and ‘in violation of the principle of impeccable integrity and institutional integrity as laid down by this Hon’ble Court.’
The affidavit also highlighted several new facts that had not existed in the public domain before. They included the Special CBI Director’s association with the company, Sterling Biotech, which has been under an investigation by his own agency- the CBI- and how its owners, Sandesaras, had hosted a wedding party of Asthana’s daughter in November 2016.
Bhushan’s affidavit claimed that certain critical information had come to the ‘possession of the counsel for the petitioner after the instant petition was filed, the petitioner would like to place it on record for the kind consideration of this Hon’ble court since it has a bearing on the issues raised in the instant writ petition, and further substantiates the grounds raised in the writ petition.’
It said that the petitioner had opposed the appointment of Asthana as the Special Director, CBl since his name appeared in the ‘Diary 2011’ that was ‘seized’ by the Income Tax Department during the raid on Sterling Biotech and Sandesara Group of Companies on 28 June 2011.
It said, “In this regard, the CBI has already filed two FlRs dated 30.08.2017 and 25.10.2017 against officials of the Income Tax Department, owners of Sterling Biotech/ Sandesara Group, their CA and other public servants and private persons. As per the FIR dated 30.08.2017, ‘Documents seized revealed that the Sandesara group had been acting as a depository for receiving funds on behalf of persons including public servants and for further delivery to them at the place of convenience. The evidence collected by the Income Tax Department showed corruption of various public servants including three senior IRS
Ankush Asthana (son of Rakesh Asthana)’s employment at Sterling Biotech
One of the biggest revelations made by Bhushan in his affidavit was the employment of Ankush Asthana, the son of the CBI’s special director. Junior Asthana, according to the affidavit, was in the ’employment of Sterling Biotech as Assistant Manager between 2010 and 2012.
“As per the CBI FlRs, the said company was engaged in delivery of large payoffs to various individuals and had opened a number of offshore entities and various benami companies in India to further their illegal operations,” the affidavit adds.
It further said that the mention of the name of Rakesh Asthana in the seized handwritten diary of 2011 with details of payoffs by Sterling Biotech, and his son’s employment between 2010 and 2012 with the same Sterling Biotech indicate that the Special CBI Director had a close nexus with the tainted company.
Bhushan also added the profile pages from two business networking site Linkedin and Bayt to substantiate his claims of junior Asthana’s employment history with Sterling Biotech.
Tainted company’s owners host Asthana’s daughter’s wedding party
It is alleged that Sandesaras hosted a lavish wedding party for Asthana’s daughter in November 2016 in Vadodara’s Laxmi Niwas Palace. Quoting a local report on the party, the affidavit had said Asthana had come in contact with Chetan Sandesara, a director in Sterling Group, at a gym in Vadodara where both visited regularly.
According to a media report cited in the affidavit, Sandesara used the time at the gym more for ‘liaising’ with Asthana while maintaining ‘good terms’ with him. The report published in Gujarat Samachar also asked why Asthana had decided to host the wedding party for his daughter in Vadodara even though he was posted in Delhi.
It said, “The IPS officer served at Delhi yet the extravagant marriage ceremony
of his daughter was organized in the Vadodara district. The party was organized by the Sterling group administrators for the stay and party of the special guests at their farm house.”
A month after the said party, Asthana couldn’t believe his luck as the Centre’s Narendra Modi government appointment him as the interim Director of the CBI after Anil Sinha retired from the post. This was despite he being low in the pecking order. Asthana, a Gujarat-cadre officer of 1984-batch, was elevated as the second-in-command in the CBI just two days before his appointment as the new boss of the federal probe agency. Meanwhile, Special Director R K Dutta, who was among the front-runners for the top post, was mysteriously shifted to the Home Ministry as a Special Secretary. The post of second special secretary was created for the first time in the ministry.
Just days after his appointment as the new CBI chief, Prashant Bhushan had moved the Supreme Court arguing that after Anil Sinha’s term as the CBI director came to end on 2 December, the central government ought to have convened a meeting comprising Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India for the appointment of the Director.
Bhushan’s petition added, “However, the government took a series of steps in a completely mala fide, arbitrary and illegal manner to ensure that Rakesh Asthana was given the charge of the CBI Director.”
The Modi government appointed the then Delhi Police Commissioner Alok Verma as the full-time CBI director in January, a month after the Supreme Court asked it to explain why it had appointed Asthana as Sinha’s successor. It’s worth noting that Verma had opposed Asthana’s appointment as the Special Director of the CBI citing the ‘integrity clause.’ In other words, according to the new CBI Director, Asthana had failed the integrity test and thereby ought not to have been considered for a position as responsible as the agency’s Special Director. But the government’s selection committee had overruled Verma rejecting his reasoning.
Bhushan, in his affidavit, had argued that Verma was right to oppose Asthana’s appointment particularly in light with the fresh revelations.
“Thus, the appointment of Respondent No. 2 (Asthana) to the post of Special Director, CBI, is arbitrary, mala fide and in violation of the principle of impeccable integrity and institutional integrity as laid down by this Hon’ble Court. The aforesaid attributes are sine qua non for an appointment to a key position in an integrity institution such as the CBl. A proper appointment as per the statutory law is necessary for upholding the rule of law and for enforcement of the rights of the citizens under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.”
The matter had come up for hearing this 24 November in the court of Justices RK Agrawal and Sapre.