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Embattled French Bank Faces New Worries as Money Laundering Trial Opens


Embattled French bank Societe Generale faces new worries with a trial opening Monday in Paris over a vast money laundering scandal that took place several years ago. The trial implicates staff and the bank itself, which is still reeling over a massive trading loss.

The trial involves a vast check cashing scam stretching from France to Israel that took place between 1996 and 2002. Four banks and more than 130 people are among the accused, including Societe Generale and its chairman Daniel Bouton. France's third largest bank captured international attention in recent weeks over a separate scandal involving apparent trader fraud that has cost Societe Generale more than $7 billion.

Three other banks have also been charged in the check fraud scandal. The trial is expected to last until July.

Prosecutors charge that checks trafficked from France were cleared in money exchange offices or banks in Israel and later repatriated to France. The banks are accused of contributing to money laundering and profiting from the deals. They all deny the charges.

The trial comes as French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde presented a report Monday on Societe Generale's massive loss, which has been blamed on a rogue trader. Lagarde told a news conference the bank's internal controls had not worked.

So far, Societe Generale's top executives - including chairman Bouton - have not lost their job over the trading scam. In a recent interview on Radio France, Bouton argued he should remain on the job.

Bouton said Societe Generale's board had asked him to stay at the helm to weather the banking storm - and it was his duty to do so.

But some experts believe Bouton's tenure may not last for long. Meanwhile, there are rumors of a takeover of Societe Generale, with two French banks eyeing a possible bid.

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