Former Societe Generale trader heads for trial

08:29, June 09, 2010      

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Trial was to begin Tuesday for a former trader accused of brining losses of 5 billion euros (5.95 billion U.S. dollars) to the French bank Societe Generale SA (SG).

About 50 witnesses were expected to be called in the three-week trial of Jerome Kerviel, who is charged with forgery, breach of trust and unauthorized computer use. Kerviel faces five years in prison as well as a fine of 375,000 euros (448,000 dollars), if convicted.

In addition, his former employer Societe Generale would demand a sum of 4.9 billion euros (5.83 billion dollars) in compensation for damages, SG lawyer Jean Veil told the Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche.

The lawyer admitted, however, that it was neither possible nor realistic to expect that Kerviel, who was paid about 100,000 euros (119,000 dollars) a year, could repay the money.

Several bank executives resigned in the aftermath of the scandal, including longtime Chairman Daniel Bouton. Kerviel's superiors and his assistant trader were questioned in the criminal investigation, but none faces charges.

The Kerviel affair was considered the largest fraud case in banking history before the world plunged into the scandal-full 2008 financial crisis.


On Jan. 24, 2008, Societe General, one of French top three banks, unexpectedly announced a loss of 7.2 billion euros (8.57 billion dollars)in an unauthorized trading operation.

Kerviel, a then 31-year-old low-level trader, emerged as the single responsible person for "the biggest fraud" by one trader after British trader Nick Leeson put Barings into bankruptcy in 1995.

As a man who endangered the biggest European bank and made the whole financial market panic before hit by the sweeping global financial disaster, Kerviel does not carry a high profile that a Golden Boy usually has, nor has a long list of glorious history like Bernard Madoff.

Kerviel, described by French media as Mr. Average, was neither a Grand Ecole graduate nor a brilliant student or employee that his professors, bosses, colleagues would ever have trouble to forget.

The son of a teacher father and a hairdresser mother, the accused rogue trader was born and grew up in Pont-l'Abbe, a small town with 8,000 inhabitants on Brittany's fog-enveloped coast.

He completed his undergraduate studies in Nantes and then attended the University of Lyon for graduate school.

Trained for the middle and back-office functions of processing and monitoring trades, Kerviel got his professional start with a paid internship at Banque Nationale de Paris.

He joined SG in 2000 by working in the Middle Office, which monitors the traders' transactions, a job described as "secretary." He entered the trading floor as an assistant trader only two years later and became a trader in 2004.

At the moment SG unwound his opening trading position, however, Kerviel was reportedly operating an unauthorized position of 50 billions euros (59.5 billion dollars), roughly 25 percent more than the banks' market value.

Kerviel turned himself in to police on Jan. 26, two days after the bank revealed the loss. He has admitted that he gambled on his position by putting bigger and bigger bets with fictitious transactions, from 10 million, gradually, to 49 billion euros (58.3 billion dollars).

Later SG reports show Kerviel bypassed its control system to start building up unauthorized trading positions in 2005 and 2006 for "small amounts."

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