CBI probe casts shadow on own officers, agency buries report

CBI
An internal inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation has found that two senior IPS officers allegedly played a dubious role in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case probe, with one of them suspected to be linked to an alleged Rs 3 crore payoff to shield an Ahmedabad banker who was eventually named as an accused in the case.

However, a year after the CBI's Special Unit-11 submitted the internal inquiry report and recommended registering a preliminary enquiry (PE), a more detailed investigation and administrative action against one of the IPS officers, the agency has not acted on the recommendations.

CBI director Ranjit Sinha, said the case may need to be examined again. "The allegations are very serious as listed in the report prepared by our special unit. If needed, or if some query is received, maybe from the CVC, I think this is a matter which needs re-examination," he told The Indian Express when reached for comment.

Amitabh Thakur, the then SP-rank officer suspected to be linked to the alleged payoff, refuted the allegations and said they had been looked into threadbare and could not be proven.

The other IPS officer in question, P Kandaswamy, the then Mumbai-based CBI DIG who was supervising the fake encounter probe, also denied any wrongdoing and said that he had never been questioned by any official in Delhi.

The probe into the 2005 killing of Sheikh was transferred to the CBI in February 2010 and the alleged foul play in the investigation was discovered in October 2011 when the agency recorded the statement of a suspect, Nitin Shenoy.

In his 15-page statement, Shenoy claimed that he and a man named Rajesh Ranjan — an alleged conman arrested in September 2011 for impersonating a CBI officer — were instrumental in arranging the Rs 3 crore payoff to Amitabh Thakur, the CBI's Mumbai-based investigating officer (IO) in the case, to shield a suspect named Yashpal Chudasama.

Of this, Rs 1 crore is suspected to have been transferred via hawala to unnamed officers in Delhi, according to the probe report. But the entire amount had to be returned to Chudasama as the alleged effort to shield him did not succeed. In July 2010, he was named in the case and an arrest warrant issued, it says.

Chudasama is a close aide of former Gujarat minister of state for home, Amit Shah, who is accused of orchestrating the fake encounter. Chudasama was suspected of tampering with evidence and influencing witnesses. He is the cousin of Abhay Chudasama, who was the DCP (crime) at the time and is also accused in the case.

"The statement of Nitin Shenoy reveals that the circumstances and those events that preceded and followed the pre-determined meetings amongst Amitabh Thakur, Nitin Shenoy, Rajesh Ranjan and Yashpal Chudasama were meant to influence/subvert the ongoing investigation in the fake encounter case of Gujarat by approaching the investigating officer," says the 66-page secret internal inquiry report accessed by The Indian Express.

The report gives details of alleged clandestine meetings between the CBI officer and the three other men and contains call detail records, passenger manifests and witness statements to corroborate its findings. It was submitted to the CBI headquarters in early 2012.

"A careful scrutiny of events indicates that Yashpal Chudasama succeeded in his efforts at least to the extent that he managed to approach the IO and had clandestine meetings with Amitabh Thakur. He also got an assurance of his non-arrest on the day of his deposition in CBI... It can safely be presumed that had there not been a micro scrutiny of the role of Yashpal Chudasama at the level of the CBI headquarters, he would have walked free," the report said.

It recommended a PE (preliminary enquiry) be registered against Ranjan, Shenoy, Chudasama and "unknown CBI officers" and that the role of Thakur and P Kandaswamy be inquired into "thoroughly".

The report says Kandaswamy was also found to be in touch with Ranjan between the "relevant period" of June 3-6, 2010 and that Ranjan had "developed equally close friendship" with Kandaswamy.

The CBI's special unit also advised that the "scope of the PE should also cover the aspect of any money transfer/dubious deal in the matter of giving relief to Ajay Patel". Another banker and close aide of Amit Shah, Patel is also accused of the same crime as Chudasama. Although there is no information about Patel trying to influence Thakur, the internal inquiry report suspects that similar "relief" was sought to be given to him too.

Chudasama and Patel were both officials of the Ahmedabad District Co-operative Bank.

Shenoy, in his statement, has claimed that Ranjan took Patel to make a statement before Thakur but he does not know what transpired between them.

The special unit sought "administrative action against Amitabh Thakur as his conduct has been more than dubious. The role of P Kandaswamy was also not above board as he was in touch with Rajesh Ranjan during the relevant period". It also asked for a detailed investigation into the alleged transfer of Rs 1 crore through hawala channels to Delhi.

It also listed action the CBI needed to take to clinch the probe: ascertain whether Thakur eventually got the money through hawala channels; whether Kandaswamy had knowledge of the developments/transactions; probe assets of Shenoy as he claims to have returned money after liquidating them; probe if there was unusual flow of money into accounts of Ranjan, Shenoy, Thakur and their relatives; confirm meetings between Thakur, Ranjan, Shenoy and Chudasama.

After the report was submitted, Thakur was moved to the CBI headquarters in Delhi and a few months back repatriated to his parent cadre, Orissa. Kandaswamy served in Mumbai and returned to his parent cadre, Tamil Nadu, a few months back.

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