New Delhi :  A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decried the CBI sitting in judgment on policy formulations, Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Tuesday warned it to “tread carefully” while determin-ing whether a business decision amounts to a crime, saying “investigator must cross a threshold that there was criminal intent before pressing charges in matters of financial crimes.”

He was chiding the agency for framing top industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla in the coal scam recently, though without directly referring to the case that created an upheaval with many ministers openly expressing concern that it would adversely affect the industrial investments.

Both PM and Chidambaram were speaking at an international conference on corruption organised by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The conference appears to have provided a platform for the government to point fingers at the agency’s functioning.

Endorsing the PM”s stand that the investigating agencies should “respect the line” that divides policymaking from policing, the finance minister said. “It is not the business of an investigating agency to prescribe rules or question policy.”

Chidambaram said the CBI was neither a “caged bird,” a reference to the term used by the Supreme Court while commenting on its autonomy during a hearing on the coal scam probed by the agency under its supervision, nor were it the “Congress bureau of investigation” as alleged by the BJP. He dubbed such myths as “craftily” fostered and added that the agency acts as a “victim” when it “pleads for more power.”

Responding to a question on the CBI’s autonomy, the finance minister said the agency is a part of the executive and that “that there can only be one executive.” Referring to an ongoing debate on the alleged misuse of the CBI, he maintained that the probe agency is part of the executive Government; it is as much bound by general rules as its other wings.

Asserting that the government has done its best to give the CBI

functional autonomy,

he warned the agency that “functional autonomy does not mean that you are free from the general financial rules.”

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