New Delhi: The Border Security Force director general and former special director of the CBI Rakesh Asthana, against whom the then CBI director Alok Verma had pressed corruption and bribery charges in a money laundering case, was appointed as the Delhi police chief late on Tuesday evening.
According to a home ministry order, Asthana will have a year’s tenure. His appointment comes with a year’s extension and just three days before his retirement on July 31.
This is one of the very few instances when an IPS officer outside of the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory cadre has been appointed as a Delhi Police chief, PTI has reported.
IPS officer S.S. Deswal, director general of the ITBP, will hold additional charge as the BSF’s director general for the time being, a Union home ministry memorandum has announced.
NDTV has reported that the appointment of the 1984-batch Gujarat cadre IPS officer has “set off unrest in the Delhi Police as Mr Asthana is seen as an outsider.”
“After SS Jog and Ajayraj Sharma, he is the third officer from other cadres to be given the top police post. Some officers have also pointed out that the current Commissioner, Balaji Srivastava, was given the additional charge barely a month ago when SN Shrivastava retired,” the report says.
Despite resentment in the ranks, Asthana’s appointment by the Union home ministry as the police chief of the national capital and its timing goes some way in reflecting Asthana’s proximity with both the Prime Minister and Union home minister.
Asthana in CBI
In 2018, the CBI filing an FIR against one of its own officers had triggered a battle in the agency, eventually leading up to the dramatic midnight decision by the Prime Minister’s Office, divesting both Verma and Asthana of their powers.
More recently, The Wire has revealed in the Pegasus Project investigations that hours after their peremptory termination, both Asthana’s and Verma’s phone numbers had come under the scanner of the client of the Israeli NSO Group, the creator of the Pegasus spyware. The NSO Group has maintained that it sells only to “vetted governments” and that the leaked database (in which Asthana’s and several others numbers featured) has nothing to do with the company or Pegasus.
After his controversial stint at the CBI, Asthana’s role in the BSF largely remained out of limelight.
However, his time at CBI contributed to a significantly controversial record. His induction to the central agency in 2017 itself was challenged in court by the public service NGO Common Cause.
The Wire had earlier reported that the NGO had challenged his appointment citing that “his name had figured in a 2011 diary seized from Sterling Biotech – a company being probed by the CBI for money laundering – as the alleged recipient of payments worth Rs 3.8 crore.”
“The diary subsequently became the basis for the CBI to file an FIR against the firm’s investors and other public servants. Asthana was not named in that FIR but the agency was apparently still investigating his role in the matter,” the report added.
The case which was registered against him during his CBI stint alleged that Asthana was a recipient of Rs 2 crore as kickbacks from a businessman Moin Qureshi to settle a money laundering case against him.
However, Asthana had then triggered a clash in the CBI when he shot off a series of letters to the Central Vigilance Commissioner, Union Cabinet Secretary, and the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, alleging that Verma criminally misused his position as the CBI chief to scuttle probes and appoint his loyalists to top positions. His letters became the eventual basis of a CVC inquiry against Verma. However, the Supreme Court intervened and ordered the CVC to hear both sides and get to the truth of the matter.
During the course of the enquiry, Verma made a claim that a “top PMO official” used Asthana in the agency to target political opposition and sabotage different inquiries. He also hinted at a possibility of active PMO intervention in the inquiry, as he accused the CVC of “bias”.
Verma had also claimed that the CVC was only focusing on Asthana’s “baseless” charges against him, while ignoring corruption charges and an impending probe against Asthana in six cases in the course of his career.
Despite his tainted record, in recent years, Asthana has been appointed to plum posts. After his removal from the CBI, he was appointed the Director General of Civil Aviation Security in January 2019, before his BSF tenure.
In the meantime, his name – in both the Sterling-Biotech case and the Moin Qureshi money laundering case – was also cleared.