ED is understood to be investigating funds totalling about Rs 200 crore stashed abroad by Qureshi.
CBI director Alok Verma and his No. 2, Rakesh Asthana, are not the only top cops at the premiere investigating agency who have found themselves in the eye of the storm. Two CBI directors before Mr Verma — A.P. Singh (2010-2012) and Ranjit Sinha (2012-2014) — were also called out for their alleged suspicious conduct and, eventually, under investigation for corrupt practices. What’s both troubling and intriguing is the common strain in skeletons tumbling out of the CBI’s cupboard then and now — Moin Akhtar Qureshi, the millionaire meat exporter from Kanpur.
Qureshi, an alumni of Dehradun’s Doon School and Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, rose to become India’s biggest meat exporter after starting a small slaughterhouse in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, in 1993. Though he established more than 25 companies, including in construction and fashion in the last 25 years, AMQ Agro, a company that exports animal gut, remains his flagship firm.
Qureshi first came under the scanner of probe agencies following the wedding of his daughter in 2011. He had flown in Pakistan singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to grace the occasion. The singer was detained on his way back to Pakistan by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) for not disclosing foreign currency amounting to Rs 56 lakh in cash.
That opened a Pandora’s box, with the CBI, ED and the income-tax department probing cases of tax evasion, money laundering and hawala transactions against Moin Qureshi, said to be among the biggest evaders of income tax in the country. ED is understood to be investigating funds totalling about Rs 200 crore stashed abroad by Qureshi.
During investigations, the CBI also found that Qureshi’s daughter Sylvia Moin’s company, SM Production, had been given contracts by then CBI director A.P. Singh for in-house Diwali celebrations in November 2012. The next CBI director, Ranjit Sinha, again gave Sylvia the contract to organise the CBI’s raiding day annual dinner at the director’s official residence in April 2013.
According to the income-tax department, a bill of Rs 33.5 lakh was presented and paid for the event by SM Productions. It was during searches in connection with this case that I-T officials found BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) exchanges between Moin Qureshi and A.P. Singh, and after he came under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), he had to step down.
The messages suggested that Qureshi was seeking help from Singh in some personal cases being investigated by CBI.
Further, CBI sleuths recovered messages exchanged between Ranjit Sinha and Qureshi, establishing their links. And the visitors’ logbook at Sinha’s residence revealed that when he was CBI director, Qureshi had visited him 70 times in over 15 months. CBI was probing him at that time. In cases related to the coal scam too, several accused and suspects were found to be in touch with Sinha through Qureshi, as the startling trail of BBM exchanges revealed. Sinha denied the allegations levelled against him and the Supreme Court ordered an SIT probe under a retired CBI director. The probe report indicted Sinha following which an FIR was lodged against him and the CBI carried out searches at locations related to him.
It was during these investigations that another trail of corruption led to the doorsteps of other top cops.
One of Qureshi’s associates, Hyderabad-based Sathish Sana, came under the CBI scanner over transactions of more than Rs 50 lakh. Facing arrest, he turned witness and in his statement to the CBI he said that a bribe of Rs 2 crore was paid to CBI director Alok Verma through a politician. In a parallel development, Sana’s statement was recorded by the CBI under CrPC 164 wherein he said that bribe of several `3 crore was paid to Rakesh Asthana in December 2017 through a Dubai-based middleman.
This led to an FIR against Rakesh Asthana for allegedly demanding and accepting Rs 5 crore bribe to settle a probe against a banker with links to Qureshi.
And it was this FIR which became the trigger for the government to intervene and carry out the midnight purge to rid the agency of the destructive power play between its top cops.
The conduct of the investigators of CBI and other agencies in several other high-profile cases, including the coal scam, 2G scam, Sterling Biotech case, IPL betting probe, multi-crore Bank of Baroda scam and VVIP helicopter deal has also come under a scanner.
Asthana, who has accused his boss Alok Verma of corruption, himself was facing a probe in Sterling Biotech case. The CBI is already investigating the opulent wedding of his daughter in 2016 in Gujarat where documents indicate that luxury venues booked for the Asthana family were all complimentary. The dismantling of each layer at the CBI is revealing the extent of rot in the agency.
A former CBI director, who did not wish to be named, told The Asian Age, “The recent developments have definitely eroded the credibility of India’s investigative agencies. Authorities concerned must take the matter seriously to restore trust… The irreparable damage that has been caused to the image and credibility of an autonomous institution like CBI by the alleged corrupt practices of the public servants as well as by the ruling party is a matter of serious concern. Junior level officers, who join CBI on deputation, will now be scared of joining CBI. It’s a serious matter.”
The anti-corruption institution can only begin to fight corruption outside when its own officers, in the words of Shakespeare and finance minister Arun Jaitley are like Caesar’s wife — above suspicion.