NEW DELHI: When Judge OP Saini acquitted the 17 politicians including former Telecom Minister A Raja and corporate executives in India's biggest corruption scandal, he squarely blamed the prosecution for "miserably" failing to prove any charge. The judge's scathing criticism had triggered questions how a case probed by the country's premier Central Bureau of Investigation could have fallen on its face in court.
- Two CBI officers including investigating officer moved out during trial
- Acquittal of 17 accused raised questions about CBI probe, prosecution
- CBI court said prosecution 'miserably' failed to substantiate charges
NDTV has learnt one factor that could have contributed to weakening the 2G spectrum case in the court was the decision to move out two officers closely associated with the probe when the trial was at a crucial stage.
The first person is the CBI superintendent of police Vivek Priyadarshi, who had been investigating the case ever since it reached the CBI from the Central Vigilance Commission.
In 2015 when the CBI was ordered to take over the probe into the recruitment Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, Vivek Priyadarshi was one of the senior officers drafted by the agency to take charge of this complicated case.
Mr Priyadarshi did continue to be the investigating officer of the 2G case, but he wasn't associated with the court proceedings as closely as he had to operate out of Bhopal for the Vyapam case. Last month, the CBI, which had probed over 2,000 people in the Vyapam case, filed charges against 592 people including Madhya Pradesh officials and middlemen.
"Wasn't there any other officer in the vast talent pool of CBI who could look after Vyapam,'' said a former CBI officer. Other key officers associated with the case agreed that having Mr Priyadarshi in Bhopal most of the time meant that he couldn't be part of the final stages of the trial.
Officials say this could explain the court's observations on the change in the agency's approach towards the case.
"The prosecution started with the case with great enthusiasm and ardour ...by the end, the quality of prosecution totally deteriorated,'' Judge OP Saini had remarked, throwing out that CBI case which became a key constituent of the image of Dr Manmohan Singh's coalition government as one seeped in systemic graft.
Already, the CBI had lost another key officer, Maharashtra cadre Indian Police Service, or IPS officer Santosh Rastogi. He was the Deputy Inspector General at the CBI, Mr Priyadarshi's immediate superior.
Mr Rastogi was moved out of the anti-corruption bureau which handled the 2G investigation in 2014 after a run-in with then CBI director Ranjit Sinha who wanted changes to one of the status reports to the Supreme Court.
Then, he was given an administrative post and isolated to the seventh floor of the CBI headquarters. In 2016 when he was due for a promotion in Maharashtra police, Mr Rastogi finally called it a day and asked the CBI to let him leave the organisation. The Supreme Court allowed it but the case now had both its key officers down during the final closing stage.
The CBI did not comment on this story. Mr Rastogi, however, told NDTV that the case was on track till he was handling it but would not comment what happened later.
Mr Priyadarshi could not be contacted for his comments. In October this year, he was selected to join the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.