CAGED PARROT: CBI head Alok Verma removed from post at height of internal feud, flurry of corruption allegations

Asthana and Verma 

NEWS / CBI

NEW DELHI: The image of the “caged parrot” is touching a new low. At the height of an internal feud involving its chief and deputy chief, corruption allegations spilled into the streets, and the government intervened to effect a razor-sharp cleansing exercise. Last heard: CBI head Alok Verma has been asked out and deputy chief Rakesh Asthana advised to go on leave. Verma quickly moved court to challenge the order even as it was issued at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

As many as 12 officials have been transferred out of the capital, some to as far as Port Blair. Notably, some of these were investigating allegations against Asthana.

A government announcement said CBI joint director M Nageshwar Rao would hold temporary charge of the agency. The appointments committee of the Union Government met last night and took the decision.

The past few days saw curious happenings at the Central Bureau of Investigations. In a blunt response, it ordered an investigation on itself, a raid was held on the central office of the CBI, and arrest of some officials was effected.

The issue assumed seriousness also for the political overtones it has. Rakesh Asthana, of the Gujarat cadre who had investigated the 2002 Godhra train burning case, is seen to be close to PM Modi as also to BJP chief Amit Shah. He was brought to CBI as its special director (deputy to chief) in 2017, much to the chargin of Verma, who is seen to be close to the Congress party leadership. Verma did everything to undercut Asthana inside the CBI. Verma was expected to retire shortly, and he would not go without taking the fight to the centre state.

In mutual recriminations, Rakesh Asthana has been accused of bribe-taking, and he has in turn made similar mud-slinging on Alok Verma, the sums in each such instance of bribe-taking running into crores.

Among the dramatis personae is the country’s top meat exporter Moin Qureshi from Uttar Pradesh, a key fund source for the Congress leadership. Also caught in the web of corruption allegations is some officials of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) based in Dubai. Several middlemen are also involved. The allegations sent in writing against Verma by Asthana are currently being probed by the Vigilance department. It is also alleged that Moin Qureshi had escaped income tax raids in the past with help from the Congress top leadership, during the UPA II period.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, in the last two days, held separate and combined discussions with both Verma and Asthana, to have a first-hand information on what was going wrong with the CBI.

Allegations are that Verma took Asthana out of two key investigations – one against Lalu Prasad in a bribe case when he was Railway minister at the Centre; and two, the IMX media case in which bribe allegations came up against former Union minister P Chidambaram and his family. Verma is allegedly keen on scuttling both the investigations.

The present crisis will also have serious implications on the investigations into Kingfisher boss Vijay Mallya who is currently in the UK and facing extradition process. Asthana is heading probe teams against Mallya.

A CBI director is appointed for two years. Verma was to retire shortly. IHN-NN

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