January 8, 2019 / 6:15 AM / 3 months ago

India's top court reinstates head of FBI-style police agency in blow to government

NEW DELHI, Jan 8 (Reuters) - India’s highest court ordered the reinstatement of the head of the country’s top crime fighting bureau on Tuesday, in a blow to the government that has been accused of undermining it.

In October the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was paralysed after director Alok Verma and his second-in-command, Rakesh Asthana, accused each other of bribery and interference in police investigations.

The government placed both men on leave, ordering a probe into the allegations.

But on Tuesday, India’s Supreme Court said Verma would be reinstated as CBI head, though he will not be able to take major policy decisions until the government completes its investigation.

The spat has embarrassed the CBI, that serves a similar role as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and led to accusations India’s government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attempting to undermine India’s independent institutions.

“I do not see it solely as a victory for Alok Verma,” Verma’s lawyer, Sanjay Hegde, told reporters on Tuesday.

“I see it as a victory for the independence of investigative agencies in this country.”

The opposition Congress Party said in a statement it welcomed the verdict, which it said “lambasted” the government’s decision to place Verma on leave.

In a petition to the Supreme Court Verma had earlier said his ousting “erodes the independence of the institution” as well as officers’ morale, and which analysts said was part of a wider pattern of government authoritarianism.

The CBI is currently investigating several high profile cases, including a $2 billion fraud at Punjab National Bank involving fugitive diamond billionaire Nirav Modi and loan defaults by liquor baron Vijay Mallya. (Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Suchitra Mohanty; Editing by Michael Perry)

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