CBI has given fresh legs to allegations by a senior officer that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval influenced investigations

by Ananya Bhardwaj

New Delhi: Should the National Security Adviser be working with the Central Bureau of Investigation, the country’s premier investigation agency, to secure the extradition of a foreign national in a defence corruption scandal that has more political than any security implications?

And if Ajit Doval indeed crossed that line and got involved, what message has the CBI sent by acknowledging his role considering a senior CBI officer just weeks earlier accused Doval of “influencing probes in the CBI” amid the ugly fratricidal war at the top of the agency?

These are troubling questions that have been raised after the CBI surprised everyone by officially acknowledging the role of a “guide” Doval played in the extradition from UAE of British national Christian James Michel – the alleged middleman in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter purchase scandal.

More so, as it took Prime Minister Narendra Modi – Doval’s boss – less than 24 hours to flaunt the extradition in his final campaign push for assembly elections in Rajasthan Wednesday and corner the Congress and its previous president Sonia Gandhi as her name has been linked to the Agusta deal.

The NSA is a political appointee, and going by the book, has no role to play in any operation or investigation carried out by the CBI, an independent investigation agency.

The CBI’s note hailing Doval only seemed to acknowledge and reconfirm political influence over the agency, an allegation that has long tainted its reputation.

Insiders told ThePrint that the CBI statement could not have named Doval without the approval of interim director Nageshwar Rao, an officer who has been accused of misappropriating funds and scuttling a probe.

Soon after Rao’s appointment, DMK chief M.K. Stalin had alleged that Rao had been brought in to “cover up the Rafale scam investigations”, the defence purchase scandal being used by opposition parties, including the Congress, to corner the Modi government.

What the CBI note has, therefore, ended up doing is give fresh legs to the shocking allegations made by CBI deputy inspector general M.K. Sinha last month.

Sinha had filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking to implicate several top functionaries of the Narendra Modi government, including Doval and Central Vigilance Commissioner K.V. Chaudhary, for alleged interference in the functioning of the investigative agency.

Doval was specifically accused of interfering on behalf of an alleged middleman at the centre of the Moin Qureshi bribery case involving CBI director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana. Verma and Asthana were both relieved of their duties pending a probe and Rao was given interim charge.

‘Doval Involved From The Beginning’

Sources in the CBI told ThePrint that Doval hadn’t just supervised the entire Michel extradition operation since March 2017, when the extradition request was made, but also personally coordinated with UAE diplomats to make it a success.

“He was involved since the beginning, not as a party, but as a guide,” a source said.

“We not only went to him for discussions, but also suggestions, while we worked on the case to make it strong enough to ensure the extradition,” the source added.

“It was a very challenging case since James is a British national, and was a third-country citizen in the UAE,” the source said. “It was because of the strength of evidence in the case and diplomatic support that it became possible.”

According to sources, NSAs do step in for matters requiring foreign assistance, on account of their personal rapport with counterparts from other countries, but they usually act as an invisible force.

Even so, they play a supervisory role in these matters and are not publicly credited.

“Doval spoke to his counterparts on many occasions and helped us coordinate meetings. He also helped with procedural formalities,” a source said.

“Even in extraditions procedures that have taken place in the past, or are ongoing, the NSA is consulted, although he is not a party to the operation procedure,” he added.

Opposition Steps In

Predictably, the opposition has latched on to the CBI statement to allege government interference in the premier investigative agency.

“The BJP doesn’t believe in institutions,” said Congress spokesperson Ajoy Kumar. “It is meddling in the internal affairs of the CBI, which is supposed to function as an independent entity.

“Extradition is a process that happens across the world and has a defined system. Our government also brought Abu Salem to India but never made it into a big thing. It is a normal job,” he added.

“What role has a security adviser in extradition? Actually, Mr Nageshwar Rao proves the fact that if Doval says jump, he will ask how high,” he said, referring to the interim head of the agency.

While it is only expected of the Congress to try and score political points against the CBI and the Modi government, it cannot be denied that the Doval connection to the high-profile extradition will only further muddy the mess in the CBI.