ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's top judge on Wednesday ordered a judicial investigation into the death of a state prosecutor who had been building corruption charges against the prime minister.
The prosecutor, Kamran Faisal, was found dead on Friday at his government lodgings in Islamabad, hanging from the ceiling. Although the initial autopsy determined that Mr. Faisal had committed suicide, his family and some colleagues said they suspected foul play.
A media storm erupted after it emerged that Mr. Faisal had been one of several prosecutors investigating accusations that Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had taken kickbacks during his tenure as minister for water and power between 2008 and 2011.
On Wednesday, the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who last week ordered the arrest of Mr. Ashraf over corruption accusations, entered the fray in a characteristically forceful manner. In ordering the inquiry, Mr. Chaudhry described Mr. Faisal's death as "shocking" and added his voice to fears that the official investigation could be compromised by powerful politicians.
Citing statements submitted to the court by Mr. Faisal's relatives, Chief Justice Chaudhry said they were "not expecting free, fair and honest investigation because of the involvement of highly influential political and executive authorities of the country."
The Supreme Court's intervention was the latest shot in a long-running battle between Chief Justice Chaudhry and the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.
The court's hands-on approach has attracted criticism from legal experts who accuse Chief Justice Chaudhry of undermining the normal judicial process.
"The court is encouraging investigations from the top down rather than from the bottom up," said Asma Jahangir, the country's most prominent human rights lawyer. "And if that happens, there can be no appeal. Nobody can challenge the Supreme Court."
Since last year, the court has repeatedly challenged Mr. Zardari's authority through court cases; in June it forced the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, to resign. The order to arrest Mr. Ashraf last week, which as yet has led to no action, was based on accusations that Mr. Ashraf and 15 other former and current officials took substantial kickbacks in relation to power plants built during his tenure as minister.
But the court has been frustrated, in part, by the government's anticorruption body, the National Accountability Bureau. Last Thursday, Chief Justice Chaudhry grew visibly angry after the body's leader, Fasih Bokhari, said during a hearing that he lacked sufficient evidence to arrest Ms. Ashraf.
A day later, Mr. Faisal was found dead at a government hostel, setting off fierce speculation about the manner of his death and lending the controversy a sulfurous new dimension. Mr. Faisal's father has rejected the possibility of suicide, while colleagues at the National Accountability Bureau have testified that he was suffering from "mental stress" and "psychological issues" at the time of his death.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.