Amid the ongoing controversy of liquor baron Vijay Mallya's escape from the country, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday took a jab a the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which has come under harsh light after it emerged that the probe body had "diluted" Mallya's lookout notice in 2015.
In a tweet, the Congress scion said that CBI Joint Director Arun Kumar Sharma weakened Mallya's lookout notice, allowing the fugitive tycoon to escape arrest in India. He also said, "Mr Sharma, a Gujarat cadre officer, is the PM’s blue-eyed-boy in the CBI."
Gandhi was referring to a report by NDTV, published a day earlier, where CBI sources said that it was Sharma who had ordered the dilution of the lookout notice from "detain" to "inform" on 24 November, 2015, without prior intimation to the then-CBI director Anil Sinha.
Sinha came to know about the change in the lookout notice on 2 March, 2016, the day Mallya fled the country.
Incidentally, Sharma is now heading the CBI investigation into the Rs 11,400 crore Punjab National Bank fraud case, involving businessmen Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, both of whom are absconding as well. Taking a dig at it, Gandhi said that Sharma was "in-charge of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi’s escape plans. Oops... investigation!"
As per the NDTV report, Sharma broke the rules by downgrading the lookout notice in a Rs 9,000 crore case without seeking the CBI director's permission. The rules state that a joint director can take decisions in scams upto to Rs 60 crores only.
Sharma, a Gujarat cadre officer, was previously Joint Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad Crime Branch, and is known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, reported The Hindu.
He is an India Police Service officer from the 1987 batch whose name featured in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case where he was allegedly present in a meeting along with other officers for “derailing the investigation", as per an Indian Express report.
The CBI had issued its first lookout circular (vide DPBSM/2015/724/RCNSM 2015 E 0006) against Mallya on 16 October 2015. The circular had asked immigration authorities to detain Mallya and report the same to CBI.
However, a second lookout circular (vide letter number 1049/RCBSM/2015/E0006) was then issued on CBI’s request, on 24 November 2015, asking immigration authorities to merely inform the agency about Mallya’s arrival at the airport.
Meanwhile, the CBI on Thursday said that the change in the lookout notice was an "error" in judgement because he was cooperating in the probe and there was no warrant against him.
A PTI report quoted CBI sources as saying that the agency did not try to stop Mallya's movement abroad as he had been cooperating in the investigation by presenting himself for questioning as and when required and also providing the required documents. The PTI report also pointed out that, according to a Supreme Court judgment passport of a person can only be impounded when he/she has been charged or a trial is pending against them.
On Friday, Gandhi alleged that the CBI downgraded the lookout circular against Mallya, with the "approval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi".
In the tweet on Friday, Rahul said "Mallya's Great Escape" was aided by the CBI. "The CBI reports directly to the prime minister. It is inconceivable that the CBI, in such a high profile, controversial case, would change a lookout notice without the approval of the prime minister," he said.
Former MP Jaipal Reddy on Friday also slammed the government and said that the government "let Mallya flee the country".