Court will question French bank chief

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The Independent Online

The Governor of the Bank of France was placed under judicial examination yesterday, placing in jeopardy not only Jean-Claude Trichet's position as France's most senior banker but also his status as next in line to head the European Central Bank.

Mr Trichet was informed by letter that he faces a formal investigation as part of a judicial inquiry into the crisis at the Credit Lyonnais bank, which lost about $18bn before undergoing a costly rescue.

The development is a potentially serious blow to the French establishment and to the European Central Bank as it struggles to build confidence in the beleaguered euro. Under a controversial "gentleman's agreement" Mr Trichet is due to take over as president of the ECB in 2002.

In a statement, Mr Trichet declared himself "profoundly surprised" by the turn of events, promised to put himself at the "total disposition" of the investigating magistrate and said he expected to be cleared.

But the allegations against Mr Trichet, who was head of the French Treasury from 1987 to 1993 and represented the government on the bank's board, appear to be serious. His statement said he was being investigated in connection with the bank's balance sheets for 1992 and the first half of 1993.

According to judicial sources quoted in the French media, the banker is under suspicion of "disseminating false information to [financial] markets and presenting and publishing inexact [company] accounts".

The investigating magistrate is expected to call Mr Trichet for questioning as part of an inquiry that was opened in 1996.