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Tuesday, January 08, 2019, 14:45
India's Supreme Court reinstates investigative agency head
By Reuters
Tuesday, January 08, 2019, 14:45 By Reuters

In this Oct 26, 2018 photo, an Indian policeman speaks on the phone in front of the regional office of the Central Bureau of Investigation in Bangalore. In a setback to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the country’s top court has reinstated the head of the federal investigative agency. (MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP)

NEW DELHI – 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. 

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. 

Sanjay Hegde, Lawyer of Alok Verma

In October the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was paralyzed 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. 

READ MORE: India ousts investigative agency head amid probe of deputy

The spat has embarrassed the CBI, which serves a similar role as the US 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. 

ALSO READ: Three held as US$1.8b fraud ripples through Indian banks

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 US$2 billion fraud at Punjab National Bank involving fugitive diamond billionaire Nirav Modi and loan defaults by liquor baron Vijay Mallya.

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