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Ex-ED officer Rajeshwar Singh: How ‘master networker, sleuth’, once a suspect, got BJP ticket

Rajeshwar Singh is contesting the UP polls, but not so long ago, he was investigating high-profile cases, and even faced some serious allegations himself.

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New Delhi: Former Enforcement Directorate joint director Rajeshwar Singh has many things to his credit one of them is a short stint on the silver screen. Rajeshwar Singh starred as ‘Rajeshwar Singh’ in the 2011 film Kya Yehi Sach Hai, which talked about rampant corruption within the police force and the politician-police nexus, and was directed by Y.P. Singh, a former cop-turned-lawyer and his brother-in-law.

Based on the book Carnage by Angel, authored by Y.P. Singh himself, the film’s premiere saw political leaders including L.K. Advani, Nitin Gadkari, Maneka Gandhi, Murli Deora and Jagdambika Pal in attendance.

Today, Rajeshwar Singh, whose colleagues describe him as “a sharp brain”, “a master networker” and an “astute investigator”, is in the news for taking a plunge into politics by taking voluntary retirement from service and joining the BJP. He is contesting the Uttar Pradesh polls on a party ticket.

It’s a far cry from just four years ago, in 2018, when the Modi government had asked the Revenue Department to investigate allegations of corruption against Singh by looking into alleged disproportionate assets held by him. The Centre even filed a report in a sealed envelope with charges that the Supreme Court observed were “very serious” and tampered with “national security”.

Singh, however, turned the tide in his favour. Officers close to him credit his “master networking skills” and “hard work” in cases against opposition leaders, including former finance minister P. Chidambaram and his son Karti, for the change in his fortunes.

Graphic: Soham Sen | ThePrint

Also read: Govt issues show-cause notice to ED joint director Rajeshwar Singh


Raising eyebrows

Singh’s joining of the BJP has raised eyebrows, with many linking it to his investigation into cases like the Aircel-Maxis deal, and the Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance given to it by then-finance minister Chidambaram in 2006.

Questions are also being raised due to allegations of the ED “going after” opposition leaders across states. The most recent is the case of Samajwadi Party leader Gayatri Prajapati, who was mining minister in the previous Akhilesh Yadav government in UP, which was being probed by Singh as head of the Lucknow zone.

While some people close to Singh say BJP leaders took note of his “hard work” in the probe, which may have led to the party’s change of heart, others claimed he was always a “very upright officer”, and after looking into all allegations, the BJP may have been convinced of his “clean image”.

Singh has also investigated several high-profile cases even in the UPA era, involving leaders from the ruling dispensation, an officer said. According to sources, Singh probed these cases despite being “close to many within the Congress”. He is said to have been close to Congress leaders including Ahmed Patel and Kapil Sibal, who were regulars at his parties. He is also said to be close to former CBI director Alok Verma, who was ousted after the ‘CBI vs CBI’ row with special director Rakesh Asthana. It was said that Singh’s association with Verma also irked the government.

“He is a master networker, a friend of all. He knows a lot of relevant people across circles and he is friends with most, so we are not surprised that he joined politics. Maybe the current dispensation was impressed with his investigations against opposition leaders,” a senior officer who has worked with Singh told ThePrint.

“He is a very affable person. He makes friends very fast, and has a good convincing power. He may have been noticed by the leadership and approached. Also, since he is a man with a clean record, the dispensation which was earlier doubtful of his credentials, may have investigated him and would have been convinced that he is clean. Which is why the offer and the so-called change of heart,” another retired officer said.

“Nothing was really found against him even in the investigation by the Centre. He had already given all details of the properties he had in his name or in the name of his family,” the second officer added.

Backed by all   

In his stint of more than 14 years in the ED, the economic intelligence and prosecuting agency investigating financial fraud, Singh, a provincial police service officer (PPS) of Uttar Pradesh, who comes from a middle-class family in Lucknow, has had his brush with most political bigwigs.

His is a family of civil servants — Singh’s father, Ran Bahadur Singh, retired as the DIG of Lucknow, and his wife is also posted as an IG in the city.

Rajeshwar Singh has not only probed high-profile cases — such as the 2G scam, Commonwealth Games scam, irregularities in coal allocation and the Aircel Maxis deal — but has also found himself in the midst of controversies including allegations of corruption and malpractices. He, however, always come out unscathed.

Despite the charges against him, Singh also had the backing of his seniors, including the directors he worked under and even Supreme Court judges, who gave him protection on more than one occasion, when allegations of malpractices were levied against him.

Sample this: In 2011 when the 2G telecom case was being probed, allegations were made against Singh by the Sahara Group. But a Supreme Court bench of Justices A.K. Ganguly and G.S. Singhvi provided protection to Singh against any action and maintained his plea against Subrata Roy for “interfering in the probe”.

Then in 2017, when allegations were made against Singh by Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia, the court barred the government from taking action against the officer.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had deposed before the Supreme Court calling it “political vendetta and political witch-hunt against Rajeshwar Singh”. The SC had then again granted Singh protection against any sort of investigation.

Things became difficult for Singh only on 27 June 2018, when the SC passed an order taking away the protection against investigation given to the officer. This was done after a journalist filed a PIL in court accusing Singh of malpractice and the Centre filed a report in a sealed cover.

The ED Director at the time, Karnal Singh, supported Rajeshwar Singh, going against his superior, the Revenue Secretary.

According to sources in the ED, the allegations against him were nothing but frivolous complaints to “settle scores”.

“The report that the Centre had submitted did not have much against Singh as he had already clarified about the properties he owned. Moreover, those were complaints from 2011 that resurfaced,” the source said.

BJP MP Swamy, the main petitioner in 2G-related cases, also spoke up for Singh, accusing “Hasmukh Adhia-led Gang of Four” of “trying to save Chidambaram by intimidating” the officer.

He also accused the late Union finance minister Arun Jaitley of attempting to stall Singh’s investigation in the Aircel-Maxis case.

Sleuth with a sharp eye

Singh, who holds a doctorate in human rights from Delhi University, looked into important cases during his stint in the UP Police as well.

“He is a very strong-headed officer who would make quick decisions. He has been involved in major operations to crack down on organised crime and has many encounters to his name,” an officer from the UP Police told ThePrint.

According to Karnal Singh, the former ED Director, Rajeshwar was an investigator with a sharp eye, who always had his team’s back.

“His understanding of a case, the grip over facts was commendable. He was also a very good leader, who always took a stand for his team, which is why they are always in praise of him,” Singh said. “He had a good hold on intelligence. He always had the relevant inputs, which shows that he worked hard on cultivating human intelligence and also on his cases,” he added.

Singh headed complex investigations like that of the Sandesara Group case — an alleged Rs 50,000 crore bank fraud involving a Gujarat-based pharma firm, and the one against controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi.

A host of allegations

Singh was permanently absorbed in the ED in 2014; he first came on deputation to the agency in 2007. To his name are charges relating to disproportionate assets and breach of national security.

In June 2018, a man named Rajneesh Kapur, who claimed to be an investigative journalist, alleged that Singh had amassed disproportionate assets while investigating fraud cases. Kapur also cited RTI replies to allege that government land was given to Singh.

Following this, Singh filed a petition against Kapur alleging that he was being “hounded by people with vested interests”, and that attempts were being made “to scuttle the Aircel-Maxis probe.” 

Moreover, Singh was also accused of receiving a call from Dubai, which, an intelligence agency said in a report, could lead to breach of national security.

The ED had then defended Singh saying that the 2016 call was from a source with “important information” about the Aircel-Maxis case.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)


Also read: Doubters of Modi govt’s extension of ED, CBI directors’ tenure, here’s what you’re missing


 

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