AK Bassi is a former Intelligence Bureau man who was absorbed in the CBI ranks
An officer who investigated CBI number two Rakesh Asthana and was transferred to Port Blair "in public interest", revealed today in the Supreme Court what he called strong evidence of the officer's corruption.
AK Bassi has submitted in court details of WhatsApp messages and calls that he alleges prove Mr Asthana took bribe from a businessman, Sathish Sana, who wanted to be spared CBI summons in an investigation.
The call records allegedly establish a link between Rakesh Asthana and Manoj Prasad, a Dubai-based man who was allegedly the go-between in the bribe deal. Prasad was arrested earlier this month. He is the son of former RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) director Dineshwar Prasad.
Mr Bassi says Prasad hadn't deleted his phone data since March 2017, so the CBI could access all his messages and those of the alleged bribe-giver Sathish Sana.
Mr Bassi told the court in his petition that he feared the man who replaced him as investigating officer, Satish Dagar, could tamper with this evidence and try to save Mr Asthana while framing those investigating him.
This is why so many CBI officers were transferred, added Mr Bassi, who was shifted to Port Blair as part of a mass transfer ordered by M Nageswar Rao, who took charge as interim chief of the agency after its top two, Alok Verma and Mr Asthana, were sent on leave.
The WhatsApp messages in Mr Bassi's petition include a January 2018 message in which Manoj Prasad's brother Somesh Prasad asks him to pressure Sathish Sana "as he can't take panga with them (can't mess with them)…too powerful people."
Sathish Sana has said in a statement to the court that Rakesh Asthana demanded a bribe of Rs 5 crore from him.
Brothers Manoj and Somesh Prasad reportedly delivered Mr Asthana's message to Sana, who has also moved the Supreme Court for protection.
The WhatsApp messages indicate that in January, Somesh Prasad got a message from an unidentified person that "after two months, money is not yet received." Later, there are messages showing what seems to be a CBI summons for Mr Sana and asking "what happened to delivery?"
These don't link directly to Mr Asthana.
Mr Bassi says the clincher is a series of calls after Manoj Prasad's arrest on October 16.
Apparently, as soon as Prasad was arrested, his brother Somesh called RAW special secretary Samant Goel, who then called Rakesh Asthana. Sources say that the two are good friends.
This is the sequence of calls that the CBI found suspicious and based its First Information Report (FIR).
22.09.05 pm (October 16): Somesh Prasad calls Samant Goel, call lasts 454 seconds
22.45.56 pm: Samant Goel calls Somesh Prasad, call lasts 206 seconds
6.37 am (October 17): Samant Goel calls Rakesh Asthana, call lasts 171 seconds
6.37 am: Samant Goel calls Rakesh Asthana, call lasts 44 seconds
Immediately after, Samant Goel calls Somesh Prasad's wife Neha's phone for a single second
Within a minute, Somesh Prasad calls back Samant Goel
7.04 am (October 17): Rakesh Asthana calls Samant Goel, call lasts 52 seconds
12.39 pm: Rakesh Asthana calls Samant Goel, call lasts 40 seconds
1.09 pm: Dinesh Prasad calls Samant Goel, call lasts 99 seconds
What's interesting is the connection between the Prasad brothers and Samant Goel. Their father Dineshwar Prasad, who was in RAW till 2000, phoned Samant Goel, another RAW officer.
Mr Bassi reveals that the CBI kept the phones of the Prasad brothers on surveillance. According to the transcripts, Somesh Prasad told his father-in-law Sunil Mittal – the alleged collector of the bribe from the Press Club of India – "Asthana apna aadmi hai (Asthana is our man)".
Somesh also said in one of these phone calls that his brother had met Asthana and that Samant Goel apparently cautioned Somesh Prasad that he "should not come to India at any cost."
It is this evidence the CBI had referred to, but Mr Bassi has now brought to the public domain.
Sources close to Rakesh Aathana refused to react but said the "truth will come out soon."