Former ECB chief Duisenberg found dead

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Wim Duisenberg, former president of the European Central Bank, was found dead on Sunday at his villa in the south of France.

The 70-year-old's death was being treated as accidental by French police. He was found late on Sunday morning in the villa's swimming pool, where he had drowned. Firemen were called to the scene in the Provençal village of Faucon but attempts to resuscitate Mr Duisenberg were unsuccessful.

A spokesman for the French Interior Ministry said that there would be an inquiry into his death, as is commonplace in such incidents, but no foul play was suspected.

“He died from drowning following cardiac problems,” said Jean-François Sampieri, state prosecutor in Carpentras. “The criminal hypothesis has been totally ruled out.”

Mr Duisenberg, who celebrated his 70th birthday last month, was the first president of the European bank and as such, oversaw the introduction of the euro in 1999 and euro notes and coins in 2002.

A straight-talking Dutchman, Mr Duisenberg worked his way up with a curriculum vitae that included senior roles in the commercial sector, as Dutch finance minister and head of the Dutch central bank. He was respected for his technical expertise and for overseeing the smooth transition to a new currency across 12 countries.

The ECB said it was “deeply grieved” to hear of Mr Duisenberg's death. Jean-Claude Trichet, the present ECB president, said he had “played a considerable role in the construction of Europe . . . a decisive role in setting up the monetary institutions in Europe, in the successful launching of the new currency.”

Hans Eichel, German finance minister, said: “He played a central role in the successful build-up of European economic and monetary union.”

Nout Wellink, who succeeded Mr Duisenberg as president of the Dutch central bank, said: “We have lost a great man. Wim Duisenberg meant much for the Netherlands and Europe.” Jan Peter Balkenende, Dutch prime minister, said the Netherlands had lost a “distinctive personality with a great international reputation”.

Mr Duisenberg stepped down from the ECB in November 2003, after five years of an eight-year term, and handed over to Mr Trichet.

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