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France National Bank Chief Found Not Guilty of Fraud - 2003-06-18

The man who heads the National Bank of France and who is scheduled to run the European Central Bank has been cleared of charges he was involved in bank fraud. A Paris court ruled Jean-Claude Trichet is not guilty of helping to falsify accounts at the Credit Lyonnais bank in the early 1990s.

Prosecutors had asked for a 10-month jail term for Mr. Trichet, saying that as treasury secretary he was involved in the Credit Lyonnais scandal and bail-out that cost the French government $33 billion.

Mr. Trichet and eight co-defendants were accused of overlooking falsified financial reports concerning Credit Lyonnais as the then state-owned bank plunged toward collapse.

But a panel of judges disagreed and found him not guilty. That appears to clear the way for Mr. Trichet to replace Wim Duisenberg as president of the European Central bank.

France's finance minister, Francis Mer, said he wants the change to take place as soon as possible. The change in ECB presidents had been postponed as Mr. Trichet's trial dragged on for several months.

The European Central Bank has been criticized for not cutting interest rates sufficiently to stimulate Europe's economy, which is barely growing. France, and Mr. Trichet, want some radical changes in the way the ECB operates.

European heads of government hold a summit Friday in Greece, and Mr. Trichet's nomination may be on the agenda.