Indian diplomat tells newspaper high-level Canadian official damaged probe into Sikh's murder

FILE PHOTO: A banner with the image of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar is seen at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple, site of his June 2023 killing, in Surrey

(Reuters) - Canada's police probe into the June murder of a Sikh separatist in British Columbia has been damaged by a high-level Canadian official's public statements, India's High Commissioner to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, told the Globe and Mail in an interview published on Saturday.

Canada has alleged Indian involvement in the murder in a Vancouver suburb of Canadian citizen and Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, whom India called a "terrorist." India denies the allegation.

"I would go a step further and say now the investigation has already been tainted," Verma told the newspaper. "A direction has come from someone at a high level to say India or Indian agents are behind it."

Verma did not name the high-level official. On Sept. 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: "Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India" and Nijjar's death.

The case has sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries. Canada withdrew 41 diplomats from India after New Delhi in September asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence following Canada's allegations over Nijjar's killing.

Verma said that India has not been shown concrete evidence by Canada or Canada's allies that Indian agents were involved in Nijjar's killing.

He said that despite the strained relations between the two countries, India would like to expand business ties and return to the negotiating table on a trade deal.

In September, Canada paused talks on a proposed trade treaty with India, just three months after the two nations said they aimed to seal an initial agreement this year.

(Reporting by Gursimran Kaur in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Lewis)