Monday, May 20, 2024

Tug-of-war over tapes

The recorded conversations of Hawala dealer Moin Qureshi are most sought after for their sensational impact on various scams. but the income tax department refuses to hand them over to the enforcement directorate unless ordered by the court [/h2]

By Vishwas Kumar

Once bitten, twice shy. The In-come Tax (IT) department is being extra vigilant in handling “politically explosive” tapes of conversations hawala dealer Moin Qureshi had with businessmen, politicians, bureaucrats and then CBI chief, Amar Pratap Singh. Three years back, the department was caught in a major controversy after conversations of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia with influential people were leaked to the media much before criminal prosecution could be initiated.

The IT department has the power to tap the telephones of those suspected of indulging in money laundering or tax evasion. That is how the mobile conversations of Radia and Qureshi were recorded.

But this time, say sources, the IT department will hand over only “transcripts” of the taped conversation to investigating agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) instead of copies of the “original tapes”. It has assured the ED that in case the court demands a “copy of the tapes” for evidence, it would be deposited. This way, it can keep track of all “transcripts”, whom they were given to and when. Any unauthorized leakage, therefore, would be easy to pin-point, it felt.



Shri A P Singh taking charge as the Director, CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), in New Delhi on November 30, 2010.


Meat exporter Moin Qureshi (facing page) exercised great influence over former CBI chief Amar Pratap Singh (above ), as has emerged from the recordings


Nira Radia (1)

The recordings of conversations of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia (above right) with politicians and businessmen were also politically explosive



From this January, the ED, which has the power to launch a criminal probe under the anti-money laundering act, has started looking into Qureshi’s affair. It has, till now, obtained several transcripts pertaining to him from the IT department. However, the ED is not happy with “selective” access to the Qureshi’s tapes and wants them in their entirety in order to unravel the racket, spread over Dubai and London. Qureshi, a Doon School and St Stephen’s College alumnus, is in the business of meat export but allegedly ran a huge money-laundering racket involving politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. He would do this through his business-cum-hawala channel.


The IT department is especially reluctant to hand over conversations between Qureshi and Singh recorded on the “BBM” (BlackBerry Messenger). These are reported to be “super sensitive”, as they reveal that Qureshi had “influenced” some anti-corruption probes being handled by the CBI during Singh’s tenure. The IT department feels that any leakage of these exchanges could open a Pandora’s Box, as several accused now facing criminal prosecution in different scams could use it to their advantage to cast “aspersions” on the conduct of CBI officials. Incidentally, Singh had handled most of the politically sensitive corruption probes; this includes the 2G scam and Coalgate, beside the disproportionate assets case of former UP chief ministers Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Moreover, while the IT department feels that the Qureshi-Singh conversation points to their nexus in carrying out “illegal activities”, it doesn’t have any “prosecutable evidence”. As most of the conversations used “coded” language, the department feels it would be very difficult to cull out any “prosecutable evidence” solely on the basis of these “exchanges”. But the ED has argued that the BBM details could help them strengthen their money laundering cases against Qureshi because it is a “credible evidence” of money earned through “dubious” methods.

The IT department had first disclosed the Qureshi-Singh nexus last year before the Supreme Court special bench of Justices Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and AK Sikri, which was hearing the Coalgate case. The court had sought a report from the IT department in connection with an application moved by Prashant Bhushan, who alleged that Qureshi, who frequently met then CBI director Ranjit Sinha, acted as a conduit of the accused in the 2G and Coalgate cases.



The conduct of the former director (AP Singh) is wholly unbecoming of his position…. The contact between this man and the former director was on a daily basis.SHAMEFUL RESIGNATION

Presenting a copy of the IT appraisal report against Qureshi in a sealed cover to the court, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi said: “It discloses an astonishing state of affairs between Qureshi and the former CBI director, who is currently a member of the UPSC.” Following the accusation, Singh resigned from the UPSC. While giving a clean chit to Sinha over Qureshi’s links, Rohatgi told the court: “I am pained to say that the conduct of the former director (AP Singh) is wholly unbecoming of his position.”

He cited instances where Qureshi influenced Singh to file prosecutions against ministers and other dignitaries. “The contact between this man and the former director was on a daily basis and in the nature of helping accused in many matters probed by CBI.”

The IT authorities started listening to Qureshi’s mobile phone conversations in November-December 2013. By February, they had amassed over 500 hours of recordings, which reportedly featured at least four ministers in UPA II, top CBI officials and several corporate honchos who had cases pending with the CBI. Subsequently, IT authorities raided Qureshi and launched a probe into his undisclosed incomes.

AP Singh, however, stoutly denied allegation of wrongdoing but accepted that Qureshi was a long-time acquaintance and friend. When asked to comment on media reports which quoted Qureshi asking him: “Sir, 500-word essay is good or 1000-word essay and size of jacket. Fast pls”, Singh was quoted as telling Press Trust of India: “I find this ironical that they are trying to create a controversy where there is none.”

He further said: “I have made it clear that he was asking me about (my) shirt size and suggesting the wordage of the essay I had written on terrorism.”

Ingenious. Only a probe will clear this code language.

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