The Enforcement Directorate's unusual, public rebuttal to the country's external spy R&AWin defence of its officer Rajeshwar Singh exposes intense bickering for months between two central agencies.
The Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW, had reported the officer to the government for his phone conversation with a Dubai-based Indian businessman, Danish Shah. A R&AW report, also placed by the central government before the Supreme Court yesterday, says Shah appeared to be working for Pakistan's spy agency ISI and is believed to have reported the visit of Indian dignitaries.
It was this report that contributed to the court okaying Rajeshwar Singh's removal from a special team probing former finance minister P Chidambaram in the Aircel Maxis case.
The Enforcement Directorate responded to a battery of allegations and counter-allegations that had been bandied around through the day with a public statement backing its investigator Rajeshwar Singh.
The statement confirmed a 2016 phone call made from Dubai to Rajeshwar Singh. Alluding to Danish Shah, the ED said the person based out of Dubai "gave important information regarding a case being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate".
It also described Rajeshwar Singh as "a responsible officer with outstanding career record", seen as a rejoinder to the RAW note that is also alleged to have triggered the corruption investigation against Mr Singh.
Top ED officials suspect that the note was a ploy to block Rajeshwar Singh's promotion as additional director that would place him next only to the ED's chief Karnal Singh.
When the note was brought to Karnal Singh's notice, he told the RAW boss that it was probably motivated.
"I may mention that this surfaces at a time when the officer is due for promotion. It is therefore important that in the light of above facts matter may be re-examined and records may be set right," Karnal Singh wrote to his counterpart in R&AW in November 2017. The ED chief's letter, accessed by NDTV, said Rajeshwar Singh had kept him in the loop about his conversation with Danish Shah.
"Danish contacted the officer claiming familiarity with him and passed on some important information to the officer relating to one of the important case. The officer immediately passed in the information to the undersigned and the same information was used in developing case," Mr Singh said in the letter to RAW chief Anil Kumar Dhasmana.
Officials said the ED's stance was influenced by suspicions that the intelligence input may have been manufactured.
"A senior CBI officer and a R&AW officer who worked had under this CBI officer generated complaint after ED started investigating a corruption case against the top CBI officer," said a senior ED official.
When NDTV contacted CBI Director Alok Verma, he refused to say anything on the row. "You have to ask officers concerned about this. I would not be able to say anything," he told NDTV.
A senior police officer in a central probe agency said the squabbling among agencies didn't augur well and could adversely impact investigations. It is not clear if a probe had been ordered into the leak of the RAW note against Rajeshwar Singh on social media.
"Rather than going after fugitives like Nirav Modi and Vijay Malaya these agencies are fighting among themselves. This is a bad precedent and will affect investigations," discloses a senior intelligence officer.