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Ex-Societe Generale banker wins U.S. appeal in Libor-rigging case

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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, Aug 5 (Reuters) - A former head of Societe Generale SA's Treasury desk in Paris can stay in France, rather than travel to the United States, to defend against U.S. charges she tried to rig the Libor benchmark interest rate, a U.S. court ruled on Thursday.

Reversing a lower court ruling, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Muriel Bescond was not a fugitive and need not cross the Atlantic Ocean, and risk detention, to defend herself.

"All Bescond has done is stay home, where she remained during the allegedly criminal scheme, and where her government permits her to live freely," Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote for a 2-1 majority. "Her reasons for litigating from home are legitimate and fair."

France does not extradite its own citizens.

The office of Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis in Brooklyn, which is prosecuting Bescond, declined to comment. Bescond's lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Banks long used Libor to price various financial contracts, and set rates on mortgages, credit cards and other loans.

Bescond and her boss Danielle Sindzingre, who was SocGen's global head of treasury, were charged in 2017 with preparing inaccurately low Libor submissions in 2010 and 2011.

They did this to make it appear SocGen was borrowing money at lower rates than it was, and protect SocGen's reputation as a sound bank, prosecutors said.

In May 2019, U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert in Central Islip, New York said Bescond could not seek the indictment's dismissal because of her fugitive status.

Jacobs called that an abuse of discretion.

He said Bescond did not try to flee or avoid arrest, and that deeming "any soul on the planet" a fugitive for staying home undermined the presumption that U.S. laws should not apply to conduct in foreign countries.

SocGen agreed in June 2018 to pay $750 million of fines to settle U.S. criminal and civil Libor-rigging charges. The case against Sindzingre remains open, court records show.

The case is U.S. v. Bescond, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-1698. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)