CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana have been “divested of all powers” amid an ongoing spat between them, sources said, calling it the first such case in the history of the agency.
As an interim measure, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given charge of the CBI to Joint Director M Nageswar Rao, an Odisha-cadre officer, with immediate effect, a government order said.
“The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved that during the period of the subsistence of the aforesaid interim measure…M Nageshwar (sic) Rao, IPS, presently working as Joint Director, CBI, shall look after duties and functions of Director, CBI, and shall take over duties and functions with immediate effect,” it read.
After taking over last night, Rao overhauled the team probing allegations of corruption against Asthana, bringing in completely new faces, officials said.
There have been changes from the investigation officer to supervisory levels, they said.
Rao, a 1986-batch Odisha cadre IPS officer, who took over the duties and functions of CBI director late last night, appointed Satish Dagar as Superintendent of Police to probe the case, they said.
The previous investigating officer, Deputy SP A K Bassi, has been shunted to Port Blair in “public interest” with “immediate effect”.
Rao, was also holding the charge of Additional Director along with A K Sharma and Praveen Sinha, who are Gujarat-cadre officers.
In an unprecedented move, the CBI on October 15 registered an FIR against Special Director Rakesh Asthana for allegedly taking a bribe from an accused probed by him in lieu of ensuring relief and a clean chit in the case.
The case was registered on a statement of the alleged bribe giver, Sathish Sana, who was facing probe in a separate case of bribery involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi. Asthana in his complaint against the director two months ago had alleged that it was Sana who paid Verma Rs 2 crore to get relief.
The CBI also arrested Devender Kumar, a deputy SP in Asthana’s team.
The agency told a Delhi court Tuesday that an “extortion racket” was being run in the CBI in the garb of high-profile cases.
The spat between the two top officer is the first of its kind in the history of the agency.
It became public when Verma objected to the elevation of the then Additional Director Rakesh Asthana as Special Director before the Central Vigilance Commission.
The objections were noted, but the commission in a unanimous decision cleared Asthana as Special Director, making him the second-in- command in the agency.
A PIL filed by NGO Common Cause against the decision was also rejected by the Supreme Court.
Asthana, who was in-charge of the Special Investigation Team handling sensitive cases, including those related to Vijay Mallya, Agusta Westland and land acquisition in Haryana, filed an explosive complaint against Verma on August 24, alleging that he took a bribe of Rs 2 crore from an accused probed by him.
Asthana had also complained about 10 more cases of alleged corruption and irregularities against the director. He had alleged that Verma had tried to stop raids on Lalu Prasad Yadav.
The matter was referred by the government to the Central Vigilance Commission which then sought files of cases mentioned in Asthana’s complaint.
In his response, Verma told the commission that Asthana’s role was under probe in at-least six cases, including one related to the loan default by Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech.
He also told the commission that in his absence, his second-in -command Asthana cannot represent in panel meetings.
Asthana urged the government to intervene, seeking an independent probe into the allegations levelled by Verma and the cases in which his role was being alleged.
While communications were being exchanged, they were being leaked to the media which duly reported the developments bringing the first-of-its kind spat in the top brass of the agency in public glare.
Former officers of the agency on condition of anonymity have said the situation is “unfortunate” and may affect cases related to the extradition of Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.
In the wake of corruption allegations against the top officials of the agency,the accused may also plead that charges against them could be motivated, they said.