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India's FBI-style police agency hit by infighting, government orders probe

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By Aditya Kalra

NEWDELHI (Reuters) – India’s government on Wednesday ordered a probe at the country’s top crime fighting bureau after its two senior officers accused each other of bribery and interference in police investigations.

The weeks-long public spat between Alok Verma, director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and his second-in-command, Rakesh Asthana, has embarrassed an agency that serves a similar role as the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The CBI is leading several high profile investigations such as the $2 billion fraud at Punjab National Bank involving fugitive diamond billionaire Nirav Modi, and loan defaults by liquor baron Vijay Mallya.

The infighting intensified this week after CBI agents raided their own headquarters and arrested an officer accused of fabricating records to back Asthana’s allegations against Verma.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Wednesday a special investigative team will probe the allegations levelled by Verma and Asthana against each other. He did not detail the allegations.

The government, faced with daily leaks and counter-leaks of wrongdoing at the CBI, appointed an interim director on Wednesday and asked the two officers to go on temporary leave.

“To maintain the institutional integrity, the officers under the cloud must stand out, as an interim measure,” Jaitley told reporters. “It is important to maintain the institutional integrity of the CBI”.

Verma and Asthana, both veterans of the police service, could not be reached for comment.

The CBI, has come under public scrutiny in the past.

India’s Supreme Court described the bureau as a “caged parrot” in 2013, criticizing the then attorney general for interfering in a CBI inquiry into the allocation of government coalfield licences.

The latest problems are a new low for India’s elite police force, media commentators said.

The “infighting points to a deep rot in the organisation,” the Business Standard newspaper said. “Even by the CBI’s standards, this must count as a low point”.

The main opposition Congress party has attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not doing enough to ensure the CBI remained a credible, unbiased and independent police agency.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Darren Schuettler)

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