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ECB candidate's trial goes ahead

Trichet denies any wrongdoing

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PARIS, France (CNN) -- The trial of France's Jean-Claude Trichet -- the man tipped to become the next president of the European Central Bank -- will go ahead despite an attempt to postpone it.

The trial into a decade-old banking scandal will resume on Tuesday. Trichet, the 60-year-old head of the Bank of France, is charged with complicity in an alleged cover-up of losses when state-owned Credit Lyonnais came close to collapse.

The trial went ahead on Monday despite an attempt to delay it, a postponement which would have posed a major barrier for Trichet taking over the ECB.

Presiding judge Olivier Perusset rejected the request by a civil plaintiff for the proceedings to be postponed, adding that

the hearings, which are due to run until mid-February, would continue as scheduled on Tuesday

The French state prosecutor alleges Credit Lyonnais issued misleading accounts in 1993 when Trichet's job was to oversee the finances of all state enterprises.

It is alleged the accounts were manipulated to mask problems at the bank.

Trichet, one of nine men charged over the affair, denies any wrongdoing.

He is due to succeed Dutchman Wim Duisenberg in July as head of the Frankfurt-based ECB.

Trial hearings are due to run from January 6 until mid-February. A verdict will be delivered later.

Trichet is supposed to take over at the ECB as part of a deal struck by French President Jacques Chirac at a European summit in May 1998 ahead of the formal launch of the ECB and the euro currency now used by 12 nations.

Chirac wanted Trichet to get the job in the first place but had to settle for an agreement whereby Duisenberg would step down half-way through his eight-year term in favour of a Frenchman.

Duisenberg has said he plans to retire on his 68th birthday on July 9, but has since said he could stay on a bit longer if needed to ensure a smooth transition at the central bank.

The French say they see no reason a lengthy trial should stop Trichet from taking over at the ECB.

If he does not, the job will go to another French banker, as was the original deal.

John Butler, of investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, said he believed there was "probably a two-thirds chance" that Trichet would not get the job.

"We do think there would be some resistance at the ECB itself to accepting a president that has that sort of record, be it officially of having been indicted, or merely the speculation thereof," he said.

However, Anais Faraj, global strategist at Nomura International, told CNN he believed Trichet was "almost certain" to become the next president of the ECB.

"In sum this amounts to very little at this stage. The issue is did something improper go while he was in charge of the French banking system. There isn't any question of impropriety per se," he said.

"This is an administrative legal case and if you look at politics across the world...there's a long list of ministers and officials who have been investigated for misdemeanours and continue to do their jobs.

"Frankly, had there been anything fundamental there, he would not even have put his name forward. At this stage no other names are on the table."

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