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Business

ECB President Duisenberg To Stay in Office -- For Now

EU finance ministers asked the Dutch head of the European Central Bank to stay on until his designated successor can be cleared of corruption charges -- or someone else can be found for the post.

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ECB President Duisenberg is not anxious to retire.

European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg agreed at a summit of EU finance ministers in Athens over the weekend to stay in office until a successor can be appointed.

"I'm not going to tell anyone how long I'm going to stay," he said. "I will be president of the ECB up to and until the day my duly appointed successor takes office," Duisenberg told reporters on Saturday.

Duisenberg had planned to retire on his 68th birthday, July 9, to make room for Bank of France Governor Jean-Claude Trichet. President Jacques Chirac demanded an agreement in the European Union five years ago to shorten Duisenberg's term by three years so that a Frenchman could take his place as head of the bank.

A touchy situation

Trichet, however, has been implicated in a corruption scandal involving the state-supported bank Credit Lyonnais. He is charged with having possessed knowledge of the bank's misleading accounting practices while he was at the French Finance Ministry in the 1990s. If convicted, Trichet would no longer be a viable contender for the ECB post. A verdict in the case in expected on June 18 -- and even if Trichet is acquitted, there would be very little time for him to be groomed to succeed Duisenberg before his previously announced retirement date.

European leaders are anxious to avoid a messy succession at the ECB during a war, global economic insecurity and a time of stagnant euro zone growth. ECB officials also fear that a difficult succession could tarnish the young bank's reputation, with only four years having passed since the introduction of the euro.

Duisenberg has made no secret of the fact that he would have preferred to serve a full eight-year term in the office.

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