The summer recess of the Supreme Court has turned quite odd with a vacation bench taking up stale corruption allegations against an officer investigating top corruption cases, directed by another bench of the apex court. Fingers have also been pointed at the Union ministry of finance, under which the Directorate of Enforcement (ED) functions—after fresh allegations under “national security” emerged against the officer, forcing him to seek a year’s leave.
The SC’s vacation bench, kept to deal with its overbearing workload as well as urgent matters, is hearing a petition filed against the investigator to probe allegations of disproportionate assets. On Tuesday, Rajneesh Kapoor, who has filed the petition against ED officer Rajeshwar Singh, did not turn up, when an application had been filed by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Subramanian Swamy seeking to implead him in the case.
On Wednesday, the SC called the allegations serious and told the government that it may probe the charges against Singh and also consider if he should continue to run the probe since the issues were about national security. Screenshot images show that a relative of a man being probed by Singh has claimed that there is an adverse report against Singh by the Dubai office of the Research and Analysis Wing, the Indian intelligence agency.
The ED has backed Singh and, on Wednesday, issued a press release that he had reported a “single call” he had received in 2016 from a phone number in Dubai. The ED statement says that it was a case-related tip which was duly used in the investigation.
Outlook has also accessed a scathing letter written by Singh to revenue secretary Hasmukh Adia. It appears there is a bureaucratic power tussle that has also stalled Singh’s promotion to additional director (of ED) by a year. Singh claims Adia has deliberately made things difficult for him. This, he adds, has been a “regular agenda” of corporate fixer Upendra Rai, in custody for various charges.
Kapoor’s petition is a rehash of one made seven years ago, along with the new claims of the RAW Report. The charges were looked into by the Supreme Court, as well as the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). Apart from taking up the court’s valuable time (yet again), it is also going to cause delays in the probe, by trying to meddle in it. So why now and why during the vacation?
Swamy has backed Singh from the beginning and has joined the fray to challenge this rehashed petition. “Today what happened in SC in my Aircel Maxis case shows that MoF [Ministry of Finance] is full throttle campaigning for removing Dr. Rajeshwar with scurrilous bogus wild charges to ensure he cannot chargesheet PC at end of this month because BC has already been chargesheeted. Now I willretaliate.” Swamy tweeted
Today what happened in SC in my Aircel Maxis case shows that MoF is full throttle campaigning for removing Dr. Rajeshwar with scurrilous bogus wild charges to ensure he cannot chargesheet PC at end of this month because BC has already been chargesheeted. Now I will retaliate— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) June 26, 2018
PC refers to former Union minister P. Chidrambaram, who is likely to be charge-sheeted by both the CBI and ED soon in the Aircel-Maxis FDI approval case. BC is his son Karti Chidambaram—as per Swamy’s lingo for the Chidambaram family.
The ED, on its part, said on Wednesday that Singh had received a call from Dubai in 2016, giving “important information” regarding a case the directorate was probing. The officer had passed it on to the ED, which it used for the investigation, it added in a press release.
There are many cases that the ED officer in question, Singh, is investigating, but there are some key cases that need a closer look. Thisincludes the 2G spectrum case, including the Aircel Maxis case where Chidambaram and Karti are being probed. Outlook had recently reported how the probe and Chidambaram’s interrogation had unleashed fresh information of questionable FIPB approvals for FDI, while the Congress leader was minister in the erstwhile UPA government.
The vacation bench took up the petition while there is a 2011 order of the Supreme Court, which was satisfied with Singh’s responses to the same allegations raised earlier. Besides, Singh is in the midst of the Aircel-Maxis investigation, as an extension of the 2G probe, directed to do so by another bench of the Supreme Court itself in March 2018, with a deadline of six months.
In 2014 as well, the Supreme Court had directed Singh to probe the Aircel Maxis case. During the hearings that culminated into that order, Singh would be a subject of frequent discussion during the 2G PIL hearing in the Supreme Court. At one point, he decided to back out and sought leave to complete a law degree.
Singh has also filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the slurs on him while he is conducting the high-profiled probes. Ideally, the ED and its overseeing the finance ministry could have contested these charges as well and publicly thrown itself behind its officer in the wake of a clean chit from both the CBI and the CVC against these same charges.
Last year, Singh had approached the court to finish this issue once and for all by himself asking for a CBI probe into these allegations. The Supreme Court had then said, “We deem fit appropriate that no action be initiated against the applicant herein by anyone of the authorities.”
It is also reliably learnt that due to the intermittent mud-slinging against the investigator, he has contemplated returning to his parent cadre as a police officer. Following the CBI’s interrogation, ED investigators have also questioned Chidambaram and Karti. It is reliably learnt that Singh did not personally interrogate the father-son duo but is supervising the investigation in his capacity as a senior functionary of the ED.
Singh, a top ED officer, first came into public notice when he was assigned to investigate the money trail behind the 2G scam.
Recently, a Delhi court had acquitted several people, including a former minister, accused of corruption in the 2G scam, but it did not dismiss the fact that money had exchanged hands. The CBI and the ED had earlier said that the agencies would file their respective appeals against the verdicts. The ED had probed the allegedly suspicious payment of Rs 200 crore from Swan Telecom to Kalaignar TV and claimed that this was the bribe money paid. If all the accused were indeed not guilty, there has to be some explanation regarding this hefty sum of money.
While the CBI’s chargesheet dealt with corruption, the ED’s charges banked on ‘proceeds of crime’ under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002. While this probe was underway, a number of allegations were made against Singh. Seven years ago, it had taken up much of the time of the Supreme Court.
The CBI and ED had complained of reporters heckling them for information in the midst of their probes. Now, reporters are pesky, but are usually trying to gather information for publication. But, what was curious was that there were non-journalists who were also trying to prod the investigators for information on the status of their probes.
The Supreme Court came down heavily on them and on March 16, 2011, noted in its order: “While adjourning the case, we make it clear that no one including the newspapers shall not interfere with the functioning of the CBI team and the officers of the Enforcement Directorate who are investigating what has been described as 2-G Scam and the Court will take serious cognisance of any endeavour made by any person or group of persons in this regard.”
In the meantime, Singh had begun a probe into a subsidiary of the Subrata Roy-owned Sahara Group and summoned its managing director. A Sahara Group media house, Sahara Samay, sent Singh an email, claimed to have document about him and sent him 25 queries. Singh did respond to these 25 queries but submitted them to the Supreme Court.
A bench of Justice GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly read the responses, said they were satisfied and issued notices to Subrata Roy and the others for contempt of its earlier order. The Supreme Court bench had noted, “We are prima facie satisfied that an attempt has been made to interfere with the investigation being conducted by Shri Rajeshwar Singh in what has been described as 2G Scam and related matters by trying to pressurize him not to proceed with the investigation qua certain individuals."
Both of these Supreme Court orders clarify that a court of law had understood that the investigator was being hounded by the very people that he was probing. The notices were sent to Subrata Roy, the Sahara group journalist Subodh Jain and lastly, but definitely not the least, Upendra Rai, who had been hounding Rai for quite some time. Rai had also filed the same rehashed petition some time back this year and withdrawn it later after the Supreme Court found no merit in these charges, yet again.
Rai’s story has been unfolding of late, after central probe agencies busted him. It was not the ED which picked him up first but the CBI, on various charges. Rai has supposedly parted ways with Sahara Group and since then started operating on his own.
The first FIR against Rai was that he had given a sworn affidavit to the PIB that he was a journalist, on the basis of which he was given a media accreditation card. This card allows journalists to gain easy access in government buildings during the course of reporting. Such a card falling in the wrong hands may be misused but that was not the offence. The affidavit requires a declaration that the journalism is the one and only profession of the applicant. Rai had a high security pass for Delhi airport from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Services and it revealed that he owned an aviation company that operates chartered services.
The investigations started to reveal how Rai had amassed a fortune over time. He owned prime real estate in Delhi and other places, including a posh bungalow in Delhi’ tony GK-1 area. The fleet of cars included a Mercedes, an Audi and a Range Rover. The agencies are currently probing how he was paid crores of rupees in ‘consultancy fees’ from various corporate houses. Rai’s modus is best left for yet another report since there are other players as far as Singh is concerned. But, there is alleged evidence building up connecting Rai to several players in the 2G case.
The petition seeking a probe into Singh has been filed using the same documents that had materialised in the possession of Jain back in 2011, which Sahara and Upendra Rai had used to pressurise Singh. After failing in the Supreme Court, another petition was filed in the Allahabad High Court. The Supreme Court also took notice of this in November 2012 and expressly said so in an order that “The documents annexed with this application show that every possible effort has been made to interfere with the investigation being conducted by Rajeshwar Singh on behalf of the Enforcement Directorate. …attempts are being made to prevent the Applicant [Rajeshwar Singh] from conducting the investigation fearlessly. All this prima facie amounts to violation of the direction given by this Court on 06.05.2011.”
The charges made against Singh include two properties, one of which is owned by a person who, by coincidence, has the same name as his wife under an allotment by the Lucknow Development Authority.
Another charge appears to have been fabricated by an amateur. Singh has been charged with buying a house adjacent a particular bungalow in Noida. Curiously, Singh made inquires and found that there is no bungalow as mentioned but a group of HIG flats at the mentioned address and the bungalow adjacent to it, which he is said to have bought, does not exist.
The charges also include a property owned by Singh’s grandfather since the 1950s and Singh has inherited a quarter share in the undivided property and duly declared by the ED officer.
It is the Supreme Court which had said in January 2017 that the cloud of a probe prevents a functionary from discharging his duties. It makes it no easier on investigators who are probing some of the top corruption cases of the country in recent times.