January 8, 2019 / 6:31 AM / in 12 days

Court orders Indian government to reinstate top cop

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s highest court ordered the government on Tuesday to reinstate the head of the country’s top crime fighting bureau, who was suspended in October along with his deputy after they accused each other of bribery and interfering in investigations.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters building in New Delhi, India, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

The spat embarrassed the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI), which fulfils a similar role to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

And it also led to accusations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had damaged the independence of the CBI by putting its two most senior officials on leave until investigations into the allegations had been completed.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said CBI Director Alok Verma should be restored to his post, but it also barred him from taking major policy decisions until the conclusion of the probe.

In his earlier petition to the court, Verma had described his ousting as eroding “the independence of the institution” and its officers’ morale. Some critics said the government’s actions were part of a wider pattern of government authoritarianism.

“I do not see it solely as a victory for Alok Verma. I see it as a victory for the independence of investigative agencies in this country,” Verma’s lawyer, Sanjay Hegde, told reporters after the Supreme Court ruling.

The court did not address the case of the CBI’s second-in-command, Rakesh Asthana.

Welcoming the ruling, the opposition Congress Party said the court had “lambasted” the government’s decision to place Verma on leave.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley defended the government’s stance, but told reporters that it would comply with the court’s ruling.

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 Simon Cameron-Moore

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