India's top court reinstates ousted investigative agency chief in blow for Modi

The Indian government in October 2018 removed Central Bureau of Investigation's director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana after their rift - involving corruption allegations against each other - became public.
The Indian government in October 2018 removed Central Bureau of Investigation's director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana after their rift - involving corruption allegations against each other - became public.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - India's Supreme Court overturned the federal government's decision to oust the chief of the country's top investigative agency in a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi just months before he seeks re-election.

The government in October removed Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana after their rift - involving corruption allegations against each other - became public.

This prompted Mr Verma to challenge the order in the top court. The government said it took the decision as the two top officials of CBI were fighting like "Kilkenny cats", exposing the investigative agency to "public ridicule".

The development is seen as a setback for Mr Modi, who shot to power in 2014 promising a corruption-free government, as he pitches for a second term in general elections due by May.

The opposition has alleged the government removed Mr Verma because it feared a probe into a controversial US$8.7 billion (S$11.8 billion) deal to buy Rafale aircraft from France.

Mr Verma, whose term expires on Jan 31, called his ouster "patently illegal" as it flouts the two-year fixed term set for the chief of the investigative agency and compromises its independence. Activists also criticised the government for not consulting the panel responsible for CBI chief's appointments.

While quashing the October order, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi restrained Mr Verma from taking any major policy decisions until the panel that appoints the CBI chief rules on corruption allegations against him.

 

The CBI - India's equivalent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation - examines high-profile cases that include corruption and economic offences.