Top CBI officers sent on leave, govt defends decision

Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs Arun Jaitley addresses a press conference during a cabinet briefing in New Delhi. (PTI photo)

Insisting that the CBI's institutional integrity was a pre-condition, the government on Wednesday said its "interim measure" to remove CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana was based on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and a Special Investigation Team (SIT) will probe allegations against them.

Jaitley also rubbished the Opposition's charge that Verma was removed because he was keen on registering a case in the Rafale scam while claiming that no wrong-doers will escape the net.

"The CVC recommendation is intended to restore the institutional credibility and integrity of CBI...Every Indian has an interest in this and if institutional integrity is destroyed, the worst form of scamsters stand to gain...We are committed to ensuring that India's investigation process does not become a mockery as some officers who are in charge have attempted to do in the last few days," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told a press conference here after the Union Cabinet meeting.

To a query on whether the government dragged its feet on the issue for days as Asthana, who is being investigated by the CBI in corruption cases, was the "blue-eyed boy" of the Prime Minister's Office, Jaitley said it was the quality of evidence that matters in a criminal case.

"I think these make juicy stories for electronic media. Ultimately there is an Evidence Act, which has stood the test of time for over 100 years. Therefore, in a criminal case, the red eyes or the blue eyes don’t matter. It is the quality of evidence that matters," he said.

Jaitley also took on the Opposition as he asked whether these parties wanted either of these two officers facing allegations to be the supervisory authority of the investigations.

"Nothing can be more unfair in the world than an accused or a potential accused being in charge of the investigation or being a supervisor in the probe or head the agency which is probing the same case," he said.

Seeking to pick holes, Jaitley said the Opposition's assertion that they knew what the agency was going to do next itself casts a "serious doubt" on the fairness process.

"If they are convinced with what they have said is true, then do these parties have access to what is going on in the mind of an individual in the CBI. That itself demolishes the integrity of the persons whom they are trying to support," he said.

The government on Tuesday night acted on the CVC recommendation and appointed Joint Director M Nageshwar Rao as interim CBI chief as the war within the agency intensified in the past few days. The latest was the CBI FIR against Asthana in a bribery case and arrest of Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar, who was working under the Special Director.

"The CBI is country's premier investigating agency and the maintenance of institutional integrity is a pre-condition. It is absolutely essential. It is necessary for any fair, honest investigation...An unfortunate situation has arisen. Two top-most officers of CBI are levelling allegations against each other. I am not going into the merit of the issue," he said.

Insisting that India cannot afford those outside the country who are facing allegation can point fingers at investigating agencies, Jaitley said, the CVC felt that the probe into the allegations levelled by Verma and Asthana cannot be supervised by these two officers.

"That's why till the investigation is concluded, to maintain the institutional integrity of the CBI and in the interest of fairness, purely as an interim measure, it was decided that these two officers will sit out for a certain period of time. A SIT not functioning under either of these officers will investigate the case," he said. 

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Top CBI officers sent on leave, govt defends decision

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