NEW DELHI: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is the country's premier investigating agency, has been witnessing an unprecedented crisis since the past few weeks.
The crisis hit the agency after its chief Alok Verma filed a case against his deputy Rakesh Asthana on October 15, accusing him of taking Rs 3 crore as bribe from a businessman being investigated by him in lieu of ensuring relief and a clean chit in the case.
The case against Asthana was registered on the basis of a statement given by the alleged bribe giver, Sathish Sana, who was facing probe in a separate case of bribery involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi.
Rakesh Asthana flatly denied the charges and instead told the government that it was his boss who had taken a bribe of Rs 2 crore from the same businessman.
He also sent a 50-page complaint against Alok Verma and his team.
Asthana further alleged that Verma had tried to stop raids on RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.
The ongoing squabble between two top-ranking officials further escalated on October 22 after the central probe conducted a raid on the 10th floor of its own headquarters in New Delhi.
The CBI also arrested its DSP Devender Kumar in connection with bribery allegations against its special director Rakesh Asthana.
On October 23, Asthana approached the Delhi High Court to get CBI's FIR against him quashed.
Thought the HC did not cancel the case, it issued a notice to the CBI director and said that Asthana would not be arrested at least until it heard the case on October 29.
During the hearing, the probe agency told the court that an "extortion racket" was being run in the CBI in the garb of high-profile cases.
The spat between two officers actually began 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 Central Vigilance Commission, in a unanimous decision, cleared Asthana as Special Director, making him the second-in-command in the agency.
Asthana was in-charge of the Special Investigation Team handling sensitive cases, including those related to Vijay Mallya, Agusta Westland and land acquisition in Haryana.
A PIL was filed by NGO Common Cause against the decision but it was also rejected by the Supreme Court.
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 CVC 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.
In the wake of corruption allegations against the top officials of the agency, the Centre, acting on the recommendations of the CVC, sent Alok Verma, Rakesh Asthana and Additional Director AK Sharma on leave on Wednesday.
They were also ''divested of all powers.''
In a sudden turn of events, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet led by PM Modi also appointed CBI Joint Director M Nageswar Rao, an Odisha-cadre officer, as its interim director with immediate effect.
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet said in its order that during the period of the subsistence of the aforesaid interim measure, M Nageshwar Rao, 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.
Since taking over in the night on October 23, Rao overhauled the team probing allegations of corruption against Asthana, bringing in new faces.
Rao appointed Satish Dagar as Superintendent of Police to probe the case.
Challenging the Centre's order asking him to proceed on leave, Verma on October 24 moved the Supreme Court and pressed for an urgent hearing.
The previous investigating officer, Deputy SP AK Bassi, was transferred to Port Blair in "public interest" with "immediate effect".
In the government’s first response to the ongoing turmoil in CBI, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that it is important to maintain the “integrity” of the central probe agency.
Referring to the extradition cases of fugitive business tycoons Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, Jaitley said those outside the country facing probe should not be given an opportunity to raise questions.
Jaitley also rubbished Opposition allegations of a Rafale link to the move.