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Two Decades Later, Rakesh Asthana is Back to Raid Lalu and Family

File photo of Rakesh Asthana.

File photo of Rakesh Asthana.

Rakesh Asthana was the Superintendent of Police in the CBI in 1994 when he was entrusted with investigating the fodder scam. He is now investigating Lalu Prasad Yadav and family in connection with a hotel deal when he was the railway minister.

New Delhi: The man who investigated the fodder scam for more than two decades is again in the thick of action with the CBI filing cases against Lalu Prasad Yadav and family.

Rakesh Asthana was Superintendent of Police in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1994 and posted in Bihar when he was entrusted with investigating the famous chaara ghotala. The chargesheet was filed in 1996 and he arrested Lalu a year later. Asthana was part of fodder scam investigations till 2001.

It is again the same Rakesh Asthana who is investigating Lalu Prasad Yadav and family. However, this time the case relates to a hotel deal when he was the railway minister during the UPA’s tenure.

Asthana has climbed to a senior position in the CBI and today occupies the position of Additional Director. The man who investigated the famous fodder scam briefed the media on Lalu’s ‘hotel ghotala’.

The fresh FIR is based on some of the allegations that have been leveled by BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi in the last two months. The case, pertaining to Lalu allegedly giving favour to hoteliers Vinay Kochhar and Vijay Kochhar, was referred to the CBI after the Income Tax Department shared details of the raids it had conducted earlier.

After registering a Preliminary Enquiry, the CBI lodged an FIR on July 5 and raided 12 locations in Delhi, Patna, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar and Gurugram. The FIR says that Lalu, as railway minister, rigged the tender with the help of the then managing director of the IRCTC, PK Goel, and favoured the Kochhars.

Asthana himself addressed a press conference at the CBI headquarters in New Delhi within hours of the agency raiding 12 locations in Delhi and Patna. For an agency which prefers to communicate with the media through matter-of-fact press releases, it came as surprise.

There have also been reports in a section of the media that the Bihar administration was informed well in advance by the Centre of the impending raids to prepare for any law and order situation, especially protests against the raiding teams.

The CBI has alleged that the company Sujata Hotels did not initially qualify for the bidding under existing tender conditions. It further said that Lalu colluded with PK Goel and got the terms and conditions altered to ensure the participation of the company.

Interestingly, out of the 17 companies that had initially bought the bid documents for BNR Hotel, the Ranchi and Puri details of only Sujata Hotels and Dinanath Hotels were available with the IRCTC. The bid document of Dinanath Hotels is also missing from the files of the IRCTC. Similarly, the nearest competitive bidder for BNR Hotel in Bhubaneswar (Kesari Hotels) was given low marking on technical grounds to favour the Kochhars.

The trouble for Lalu may mount if the CBI can establish final beneficiary in the case.

The CBI claims that Lalu was given almost three acres of prime land in return of the favour passed on to the Kochhars. The land was initially given at a throwaway price to a company named Delight Marketing. The company was owned by Sarla Gupta, the wife of Lalu’s confidant Prem Chand Gupta and was allegedly a front for Lalu.

Over the years, the value of the land appreciated and now the biggest mall in Patna is being constructed on the same. The CBI claims that the value of the land was at least Rs 32 crore according to the circle rate and the market rate was much higher. However, Sarla Gupta transferred the equity of the company (along with the land) for a mere Rs 65 lakh to Rabri Devi and her son Tejaswi Yadav, the current deputy chief minister of Bihar.

The CBI alleges that Delight Marketing was just a front to corner the benefits from the deal. The company Delight Marketing has been renamed as LARA Projects LLP, an acronym for Lalu and Rabri.