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Conversations: 'Corruption Won't Disappear Overnight'
Exclusive interview with R.K. Raghavan, director of India's Central Bureau of Investigation

October 24, 2000
Web posted at 12:45 p.m. Hong Kong time, 12:45 a.m. EDT

India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the country's premier anticorruption agency, was long used by governments to repress or conceal politically embarrassing cases, or to pursue political opponents. As a result of public concern, the process of selecting the bureau's head was changed in 1997 to ensure its independence from political control. Earlier this month, as a result of CBI investigations, former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu State, Jayaram Jayalalitha, were separately convicted of corruption and sentenced to jail. Other high profile investigations -- the Bofors gun kickback scandal and match-fixing among India's top cricketers -- are now moving inexorably towards trial and prosecution. TIME Delhi Bureau chief Michael Fathers spoke with CBI Director R.K. Raghavan about these and other developments. Edited excerpts:

Web-only interviews with South Asia's opinion makers

Visit the Conversations Archive in TIME Asia's Web Features for more interviews with South Asia's opinion makers

TIME: Indians have been made aware of corruption at the highest level as a result of recent CBI investigations. How widespread is corruption in India?
It is widespread, you can't wish away that fact. We get lots of cases, lots of instances of corruption at the senior administrative level, which we investigate. The system [of administration] definitely lends itself to corruption. But with more and more privatization, I expect that corruption levels will decrease. I am not saying it's going to occur today or tomorrow; it may take many years. There is a strong movement against corruption; public opinion is against it and I think public opinion will assert itself in the course of time. I see a change coming but it will probably take another decade for it to work through.

TIME: Why do you think it will take so long?
Because it [corruption] is an organized effort and people are willing to pay bribes to get services. So when we reach a stage when supply can cope with demand, then naturally corruption levels will decrease.

TIME: Do you come under political pressure in any way?
I come under pressure, yes. But it's not just political pressure. I am under pressure from public opinion, the media, the judiciary... Different sections of society apply pressure on us; pressure to perform and pressure to keep a low profile. We are a very vibrant democracy with a very dynamic setup, where people like to make their views known. So a lot of people come and see me. If that is pressure, then yes is the answer to your question.

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TIME: If you were asked to investigate a case that involved a government minister, would you expect the Prime Minister to intervene?
Absolutely not, because under the present dispensation, the CBI is autonomous. I don't think anybody would question that.

TIME: So the investigation would proceed?

TIME: Do you have the power to slow down or speed up an investigation?
That depends. Sometimes the courts impose a deadline by which time we have to complete our investigation of a case and submit our report, so there's that kind of a deadline.

TIME: What sort of criticism do you face?
We used to face a lot of criticism over not doing our homework properly, that our evidence was not adequate etc. We have now reviewed our work and we are quite conscious of the fact that we have to be on firm ground when we go to court. In certain cases we may not be able to get the best of everything, but public opinion often requires us to go forward, lay charges etc. The courts, however, tell us repeatedly that we should not act like judges; our job is to collect evidence and place it before the courts. The courts will decide whether the evidence is good enough or not. That is the basis of the rule of law.

TIME: As India's premier criminal investigation agency, who are you responsible to -- parliament, the courts or the government?
It is a complicated arrangement in India. For logistics and administrative requirements, we come under the Department of Personnel, which comes under the Prime Minister. As far as the investigations are concerned, our masters are the courts at various levels. And as far as registration of cases is concerned, we now enjoy total autonomy. We do not need approval from anybody to launch an investigation. But ultimately when we lay charges before the courts there are sanctions. We need approval from the government to prosecute a public servant, for example.

TIME: Has approval ever been withheld?
Sometimes, when the sanctioning authority or the competent authority, as we call it, is not convinced that there are enough facts [to prosecute].

TIME: Does that happen very often?
Not very often. Sometimes there are gray areas where we are unable to get sufficient information, so in such cases approval to prosecute is denied. Or, the competent authority might ask for clarification or for more details. In that case there is a deadline on the competent authority to approve or not approve [cases].

TIME: In the past the CBI was seen as a tool of the government, or the Prime Minister. Today this perception in the public's mind seems to have gone. How did this come about?
This is all thanks to a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of India in the Vineet Narayan case. The court's judgment in late 1997 prescribed the procedure for the appointment of the CBI Director, and struck down the earlier rule, known as the single directive, which required the CBI to get government permission to launch an investigation. The Supreme Court said this was clearly against the law. Secondly, the appointment of the CBI Director was to be based on merit, experience and seniority. His term of office was to be fixed at two years, and he could not be removed except in extraordinary circumstances. This greatly helped the CBI to acquire the autonomy it now enjoys.

TIME: What guarantee has the Indian public got that the CBI will remain autonomous and free from political pressure?
We are much more transparent than before. We have a website which lists all our judgments. It tells how we operate and invites people to lodge complaints. We meet the press regularly -- they are very aggressive in monitoring our work. And the courts are very vigilant; if we are not straightforward in our investigations, they can pull us up. I welcome all these developments. They keep us on our toes and on guard.

TIME: What is happening in your investigation into match-fixing and corruption in cricket?
I won't call it an investigation, which is a very legal term. It is an inquiry. Investigation refers to a registered case and we have not registered a case. We have almost completed the inquiry and we are in the process of getting legal opinion. We will then decide whether to register a legal case or make a report to the Sports Minister.

TIME: Are there likely to be any prosecutions?
This depends upon legal opinion as to whether a case is made out. We are in the process of finding out.

TIME: Has the inquiry revealed any illegal acts?
Yes, receipt of money, exchange of money, and the nexus between bookies and cricket players.

TIME: Will it be up to the Sports Minister to decide whether to prosecute?
There are no public servants involved in match-fixing, so we are free to proceed against them on our own without having to wait for a nod from the government.

TIME: What are your most common cases?
The CBI started as an anticorruption agency, but over time it began inquiring into a wide spectrum of offences, including commercial crime and bank fraud. We also handle cases of murder and assassination. I want our focus to shift from traditional crimes to cyber crimes. I know there is a lot of it about, but most of it is not being reported. Hopefully in the course of time victims can be coaxed into reporting it. Many of our officers are highly computer savvy. We have got some brilliant graduates from the Indian Institute of Technology. And there are others who want to join the CBI because of this new emphasis.

TIME: Can you put a value on the cost of cyber crime in India?
It is impossible. There is a lot of it but as I said the victims are averse to reporting it. I don't know why. Many are private companies and they might want to keep their business under the carpet. We are trying to educate the state police forces and we have been holding seminars and training programs. The FBI is helping us and has trained some of our officers. We expect to become really skilled in handling cyber crimes in the days to come.

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