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French investor commits suicide in New York

Thierry de la Villehuchet, the 65-year-old French co-founder of Access International, has committed suicide in New York, according to a friend of the victim. Access had raised funds to invest in interests linked to alleged fraudster Bernard Madoff.

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AFP - A French investment manager who ploughed 1.5 billion euros (2.1 billion dollars) into Bernard Madoff's fraud-hit scheme committed suicide in his New York office Tuesday, a friend of the victim said.

Thierry de la Villehuchet, 65, was the co-founder of Access International, a company that raised funds on European markets to invest with Madoff, the former pillar of Wall Street now accused of running a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

One of his close friends confirmed a newspaper report that Villehuchet committed suicide early on Tuesday, saying he had spoken to an employee at the company's New York office and that police were at the scene.

Villehuchet "could not cope with the pressure following the outbreak of the scandal," the website of La Tribune daily quoted an associate as saying.

The Frenchman was managing some two billion euros for European clients, of which three quarters had been invested with Madoff when the scandal broke, said the friend, who declined to be identified.

He told AFP Villehuchet was "devastated" and feared his clients would turn against him in the courts.

"Access was his whole life, and Madoff was a manager in whom he had complete trust. I lunched with him two weeks ago and he said, how lucky it was that Madoff was the only manager still doing well at the moment."

In New York, the police department confirmed a body was recovered but did not release the man's name.

"A male, white, age 65, is deceased this morning at Access International offices on Madison avenue," an officer told AFP, adding that a medical examination was underway to determine the cause of death.

Prosecutors allege that Madoff, 70, has confessed to losing upward of 50 billion dollars over years of running a pyramid scheme, where new investors were secretly fleeced to pay returns to earlier investors.

He is currently free on bail of 10 million dollars as police continue a probe.

La Tribune's website said Villehuchet spent the past week trying "day and night to find a way to recoup his investors' money" and that he had begun legal action in the United States against US authorities.

But "he could not stand the hunt for culprits launched by the Europeans," his associate was quoted as saying.

"The truth is that everyone wanted to invest with Madoff, considered by everyone to be AAA, i.e. absolute security."

Married without children, Villehuchet was described as a keen sailor.

"I had known him since 1992. He was one of a kind, a very warm, hard-working man," his friend said, describing him as "a perfectly honest guy."

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