Under attack from the income-tax department for its officers’ alleged proximity with Moin Akhtar Qureshi, a Delhi-based meat exporter, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has hit back. Reacting to the I-T notice on his predecessor A P Singh, CBI director Ranjit Sinha on Thursday accused the tax authorities of pursuing a “witch-hunt”.
Sinha said Qureshi was active in Delhi’s social circles, so he was very well known. “He applied to provide his services (at a CBI function) and he was paid for it. Is that a crime?,” he asked.
Qureshi (57), a Doon school alumnus, has long been on the I-T department’s radar over alleged tax evasion and underreporting his companies’ turnover.
In May, Sinha had written to the Central Board of Direct Taxes, with a query on the “incriminating evidence” the tax agency had procured in this matter. “I have not yet received any reply to my letter,” Sinha said.
In its notice to A P Singh, a member of the Union Public Service Commission at present, and his wife, the I-T department has sought their tax and asset details, besides credit card information and bona fide data on properties owned since 2009.
A property rented by Qureshi was owned by Singh’s mother – that is believed to be the primary connect between the two. Singh has also been asked by I-T to provide all details of his foreign visits in the past three years. The notice has been issued under Section 131 of the I-T Act – powers regarding discovery, production of evidence.
Sinha, who took office after the end of Singh’s term in 2012, had hired Qureshi’s firm to organise CBI’s “at-home” function in April last year. Qureshi was first engaged by CBI for a Diwali function in 2012. A senior CBI official said the I-T department was leaking information and doing character assassination without any valid evidence. “There is nothing criminal about renting out a property,” the official said.
However, after conducting searches at Qureshi’s premises, the I-T department froze Rs 20 crore in cash and jewellery, besides bank deposits. The tax agency also claims to have the details of telephonic and other mobile phone communication between Qureshi and Singh. This is still being probed.