updated 12/19/2005 12:02:17 PM ET 2005-12-19T17:02:17

Italy’s central bank chief, Antonio Fazio, who is under criminal investigation, handed in his resignation Monday — pre-empting government efforts to get him out of office.

Bank of Italy spokeswoman Paola Ansuini said Fazio had turned in his resignation to a member of the bank’s Superior Council, which will decide Tuesday whether to formally accept it during a previously scheduled meeting.

Fazio’s resignation will be approved, Luigi Leone, who is head of the union representing the majority of the central bank staff, told Class-CNBC, an Italian-language financial TV channel.

Bank of Italy Director General Vincenzo Desario will take the helm of the central bank temporarily, Leone said.

Fazio, who assumed the lifetime post in 1993, is under investigation by Italian prosecutors for abuse of power for his role in bank takeover battles and reportedly also for insider trading.

His decision, “autonomously taken with a tranquil conscience, is aimed at restoring serenity in the higher interests of the country and of the Bank of Italy,” a statement from the central bank said.

Fazio, 69, has vast powers of surveillance and antitrust in the banking sector in his role as central bank governor. He is also a member of the board of the European Central Bank, which sets monetary policy for the 12-nation euro zone.

The ECB said in a statement that its president, Jean-Claude Trichet, was informed by Fazio on Monday of his intention to resign.

“The ECB fully respects this decision,” the bank said, describing the resignation as being in the best interests of Italy and Bank of Italy.

Fazio allegedly abused his position in dealings involving Banca Popolare Italiana Scarl’s failed takeover battle with Dutch bank ABN Amro Holding NV for Banca Antonveneta SPA. Milan prosecutors are also reportedly investigating Fazio for insider trading in connection with the bid.

He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and since last summer had resisted mounting calls for his resignation.

For weeks, politicians from both the government and the opposition had been clamoring for Fazio to quit.

The government was working on a reform of the central bank that would limit the term of the governor to five years. It was not immediately clear how Fazio’s resignation would affect the reform, which was scheduled to be discussed on Tuesday in a special cabinet meeting.

Fazio’s decision follows the jailing of several bankers in the case last week. Popolare Chief Executive Gianpiero Fiorani was picked up on a warrant for market rigging.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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