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French Treasury chief to join Asia-focused fund as election looms

PARIS (Reuters) - The head of the French Treasury said on Monday he would leave his position to join a Franco-Chinese investment fund, a rare move for a top French official.

As the highest-ranking civil servant at the finance ministry, Bruno Bezard, 53, has been one of France’s top negotiators in Brussels and other global forums, working behind the scenes on hot issues such as the Greek debt crisis or Brexit.

On July 1, he will join Cathay Capital, a private equity boutique with 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) under management and offices in Shanghai and Paris, after 30 years of working his way up the echelons of French administration, he told Reuters.

The government will name his successor in due course, the finance and economy ministries said in a statement.

Senior French officials more typically move to jobs at Washington or Frankfurt institutions. Bezard’s departure comes 12 months before a presidential election in France, in which opinion polls show unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande is unlikely to reach the second round run-off.

Hollande has seen several of his top economic advisers leave the Elysee palace recently, with Laurence Boone moving to insurer AXA AXAF.PA and Jean-Jacques Barberis poached by asset manager Amundi AMUN.PA, prompting French media to talk of an "end of reign" atmosphere in the corridors of power.

Bezard, who already speaks some Chinese after two years in Beijing, said he had been thinking for years of moving to Asia and had preferred to announce his departure a year before the election precisely to avoid this kind of political speculation.

“It’s a move that’s a bit unusual for a Treasury director, it’s a relatively small, entrepreneurial structure, but I followed my instinct,” Bezard said in an interview.

“I am convinced France has a role and extraordinary potential in Asia,” he said.

Previous Treasury supremos have landed top jobs in international organizations such as the IMF, with Michel Camdessus and Jacques de Larosiere heading the Washington-based institution, while Jean-Claude Trichet became the head of the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Mark Trevelyan