New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing into a corruption case against a Customs tribunal judge, Gowri Shanker, who allegedly took a bribe of $500,000 from a US firm in a RIG import dispute case. According to the documents accessed by CNN-IBN, the CBI probe was ordered after the US government gave details of improper payment to Indian officials in connection with the case.
The US government had provided the details of improper payments to several government officials, including the tribunal judge, by US firms in 2008-09. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is monitoring the CBI probe in as many as five cases mentioned by the US government.
CNN-IBN has accessed documents of the cases that are monitored closely by the PMO. It involves five cases of improper payments made to Indian officials and individuals by US companies.
The CBI has made considerable progress in a case involving Gowri Shanker, who was a member in the Customs, excise and gold tribunal. He allegedly took a bribe of five hundred thousand dollar from US based M/S Pride international in 2003. In return, Shankar allegedly overturned a Customs commissioner's order of 2001 against M/s Pride Foramer India. Pride had allegedly understated value of a RIG imported for oil drilling operations, and was asked to pay penalty and interests by the Custom commissioner order.
Documents with CNN-IBN show that the CBI could issue letter rogatories to various countries and looking for phone details of Gowri Shanker. As part of the probe, the CBI search the judge's house and seized documents that showed his investments in Mumbai, Goa and Ahmedabad. All these investments were done post his retirement in 2003.
When CNN-IBN tried getting Gowri Shanker's reaction to the allegations, his wife claimed he was not at home.
The preliminary investigation by the CBI also names two other Customs officials – PB Ranadive, a Customs consultant, and SR Sunder Raj, the Indian agent of Pride Foramer. Investigations suggest it was Ranadive who suggested to Sunder Raj that Gowri Shanker be paid to secure favourable order for Pride Foramer.
Meanwhile, CBI and departmental enquiries are also on in cases involving officials of railway, defence, agriculture and cooperation ministries.
The seriousness of the allegations can be gauged from a DOPT letter, which points out that PMO is monitoring the issue and wants the CBI to expedite investigations. The USA has already initiated action against the said firm. The CBI is now looking to track how payments were made and how the money allegedly traveled through accounts in France and Switzerland into the judge's accounts.