New Delhi: Hours after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma was sent on a leave over the allegations against him, the Congress party launched a sharp attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing him of a “desperate cover-up attempt” over the Rafale deal, a charge Finance Minister Arun Jaitley brushed off as rubbish saying it was done on the recommendations of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

Terming the removal of Alok Verma as “illegal”, Congress national spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “A scared and panic-stricken PMO forced the CBI Director to go on leave at 2 a.m. and transferred a dozen officers, to frantically bury the corruption track.” The party further alleged that the move was triggered by the Modi government’s fear that its “dirty secrets” in the Rafale scam will pop out.

Attacking the government on the same lines, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that the decision was taken to stop Verma from investigating the Rafale scam. Referring to PM Modi as “Mr 56”, the Congress president alleged that by removing Alok Verma, the PM broke the law when he bypassed Chief Justice of India and Leader of Opposition who were in the panel which selected the CBI chief.

The Centre, however, defended its move to remove CBI chief Alok Verma saying that he wasn’t cooperating with the Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC) probe on the allegations levelled against him by Special Director Rakesh Asthana. The decision to strip divest Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana off their duties was taken for a fair probe and to “restore the agency’s institutional integrity and credibility”.

'Last Nail Into CBI's Independence': Oppn Slams Govt Over Removal of Alok Verma as Probe Agency Chief

'Last Nail Into CBI's Independence': Oppn Slams Govt Over Removal of Alok Verma as Probe Agency Chief

“Despite repeated assurances and reminders, the Director, CBI failed to furnish the records/files before the Commission…. The CVC has also observed that the Director, CBI has been non-cooperative with the Commission, non-compliant with the requirements/directions of the Commission and has created willful obstructions in the functioning of the Commission which is a Constitutional body,” the statement read.

CBI chief Alok Verma and Number 2 Rakesh Asthana were sent on leave late Tuesday (October 23) amid the allegations against them. As an interim measure, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave charge of the CBI to Joint Director M Nageswar Rao, an Odisha-cadre officer, with immediate effect, a government order said.

Alok Verma moves Supreme Court

After being stripped off of the duties as the probe agency chief, Alok Verma moved the Supreme Court alleging that the Centre’s decision was against the apex court’s directions for an independent CBI. “Law mandates secured 2-year tenure of CBI Director to ensure independence. Decision of transfer of CBI Director rests with high powered Committee. Centre’s decision goes against SC directions for an independent CBI,” he said.

In his petition, Verma accused Asthana of hampering investigations into many sensitive cases including those monitored by the Supreme Court (SC). “After the appointment of Rakesh Asthana IPS as Special Director…, despite the pendency of cases against…, decisions that were crucial to the progress of certain investigations were stymied by Asthana alone. Many of these concerned very sensitive cases including those monitored by this Hon’ble Court,” Verma’s petition read.

As per the Delhi High Court order, Verma will now have to respond to the charges levelled against him by Asthana on Monday. The Delhi HC had on Tuesday directed the CBI to maintain status quo in the probe into a bribery case against its Special Director Rakesh Asthana and granted the agency’s number 2 an interim protection from arrest till Monday i.e., October 29.

The probe agency had on Sunday booked its own Special Director Rakesh Asthana with accepting a bribe to settle a case of meat exporter Moin Qureshi. The bribe charges have been alleged by one Satish Sana who told the agency that he paid Rs 3 crore to Asthana so that his name doesn’t come up in the Qureshi case.