Hyderabad: A CBI team led by joint director VV Lakshminarayana knocked on the door of first additional CBI judge T Pattabhirama Rao's Banjara Hills residence last month, and asked for the keys to his bank lockers.
Taken aback, the judge allegedly sputtered, "Keys? What keys? What are you talking about?"
The judge has been accused of accepting Rs 2 crore from aides of Gali Janardhan Reddy for giving bail to the mining scam suspect on May 11. Suspended by Chief Justice Madan B Lokur, he is facing a CBI probe into the episode.
The case has sent shock waves across the judiciary. Sources say the alleged deal was for Rs 5 crore - unconfirmed reports put it as high as Rs 10 crore - and the Rs 2 crore was the down payment.
Top sources disclosed to Express that the judge was initially evasive to his CBI guests. Lakshminarayana's sleuths then told him they know all about the Gali deal and that the money was received by his son and stashed away in five lockers in a bank at Ashok Nagar, Hyderabad. Pattabhirama Rao then quietly fetched the keys.
Upon opening them, the CBI men are said to have found close to Rs 2 crore. As per the deal, the up-front tranche was allegedly delivered before bail was granted on May 11 and the remainder after that.
Apart from Pattabhirama Rao, his son, a retired judge, a politician and a rowdy-sheeter are said to have played key roles in the deal. Speculation in particular is rife over the role of law minister Erasu Pratap Reddy. He has denied any wrongdoing while confirming that he is indeed a relative of Gali and DGP V Dinesh Reddy.
It all began innocuously enough. Around the time Gali's bail plea was being heard, the CBI smelt something fishy, more on a hunch than on the basis of any specific input. They began listening in on conversations among the judge, his son, a retired judge and the other players.
Sources said it was Pattabhirama Rao's casual use of his mobile phone that did him in. "There was casual talk on the mobiles. Perhaps they never thought it would be under surveillance," sources said.
Once it was confirmed that a deal for Rs 5 crore (or even Rs 10 crore) had been struck, Lakshminarayana approached chief justice Lokur, and briefed him about the development. The CJ gave the green signal for a probe.
So far, CBI sleuths have searched five houses for the rest of the money allegedly paid to the judge. The main fixer of the deal is said to be a rowdysheeter while a retired judge and a politician played facilitators. The money originated from Bellary.
Pattabhirama Rao's arrest is imminent, sources said, adding that his son, the rowdysheeter and the retired judge are likely to be made co-accused in the case, which is likely to be registered by the agency itself.