PARIS - The head of Paris' powerful criminal investigation force was charged and immediately suspended late Thursday over allegations that he leaked details of a probe to a fellow top officer who was under inquiry.
Just minutes after the Paris prosecutor's office said it was charging Bernard Petit, the French interior ministry announced his suspension and named Christian Sainte, head of the judicial force for the city of Marseille, as his replacement.
The charges against Petit are unprecedented for the force - France's answer to the FBI - which is already embroiled in numerous other scandals.
Petit is accused of feeding information to Christian Prouteau, the former chief of the GIGN elite police unit, before he was taken into custody in October over a case relating to fraudulent documentation being given to illegal migrants.
Petit was charged with "violating the secrecy of an inquiry and disclosing information in order to impede efforts to investigate and determine the truth", Paris prosecutors said in a statement.
Petit's chief of staff, Richard Atlan, was charged with the same offence.
Philippe Lemaitre, an official at the National Welfare Association representing police staff, is suspected as having acted as an intermediary for Petit and Prouteau and has been charged with complicity in influence peddling as well as complicity in violating the secrecy of an investigation.
The charges are the latest in a series of blows for the department.
In July, 52 kilograms (115 pounds) of cocaine were stolen from the force and never found, with a former member of its drugs squad under suspicion for the theft.
In April, a Canadian woman filed rape allegations against members of the force's anti-gang squad, and two officers were charged with gang rape