• France edition
 

Profile: the Frenchman who nearly broke the bank

Published: 24 Oct 2012 18:03 GMT+02:00

The 35-year-old was convicted of forgery and breach of trust for gambling away nearly €5 billion ($6.3-billion) in risky deals as a star trader at Société Générale, one of Europe's biggest banks.

Branded a crook by his ex-employer and a mere scapegoat by defenders, Kerviel insisted his bosses knew what he was doing and turned a blind eye to possible breaches of rules as long as he kept the profits rolling in.

Even as he racked up billions for the bank in its skyscraper in Paris's La Défense business district, Kerviel lived modestly in a small suburban flat and took the train to Brittany in the holidays to visit his widowed mother.

"I am an ordinary person. I am not crazy," he said during investigations into the scandal after Société Générale was driven to unwind €50 billion of risky deals that it blames on him.

"I didn't earn millions (in salary) and I didn't drive a Porsche," said Kerviel, who was paid €50,000 a year plus tens of thousands more in bonuses when the scandal erupted in January 2008.

"Have you seen my apartment? Forty-five square metres (485 square feet), no masters' paintings. Ikea furniture," he added.

Some commentators have interpreted his big risk-taking as motivated by the desire to prove himself, a young man from a modest background, among the ranks of high-flying traders from elite schools.

Société Générale says he worked out how to circumvent complex risk-control mechanisms and its lawyer Jean Veil accused him of "duplicity" in reassuring his employers that all was well.

Kerviel appealed against his conviction but on Wednesday a Paris court upheld the original sentence.Kerviel was born in the small town of Pont l'Abbe, Brittany, to a father
who taught metalwork and a mother who was a hairdresser.

He once ran for municipal office as a candidate from ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party but was not elected. He told the newspaper Libération that as a child he wanted to be a vet.

Instead, Kerviel trained in economics and finance at universities in nearby Quimper and in Nantes and Lyon, where his teachers said he graduated with solid but not exceptional grades.

He joined Société Générale in 2000 where he was promoted to the "front office" five years later to trade futures on European share indices – effectively betting on the direction of the stock market.

Colleagues at the time described him as a quiet loner. Journalists have likened the fresh-faced ex-trader to the film star Tom Cruise.

He liked the music of R and B singer Alicia Keys and was a big film fan, admitting that he cried at the end of the 3D fantasy "Avatar."

Kerviel spent 38 days in custody after his arrest in 2008 and later took up a job at a small IT company in a suburb of Paris. He is currently unemployed.

He said ahead of his initial trial that he hoped it would teach people the lessons of the global financial crisis.

"Respect for work, solidarity, honesty – I grew up with these notions. But when I became a trader, I lost part of these morals." The sum he is now expected to repay is equivalent to what Kerviel might earn over 370,000 years if he started working for the French minimum wage.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How French women have changed in last 30 years
A report reveals how the life of French women has changed over the years. Photo: Shutterstock

How French women have changed in last 30 years

Less need to get married and less desire to fulfil their partner's sexual needs. These are just two ways women in France have changed in the last 30 years, according to a new report. READ  

Elysée Palace hunts for mystery 'inside' snapper
The Elysée Palace suspects the controversial photo of Hollande and Gayet may have been taken by staff. Photo: Voici

Elysée Palace hunts for mystery 'inside' snapper

As the Elysée Palace desperately tried to identify the mystery photographer who snapped François Hollande and actress Julie Gayet at the president's residence, The Local spoke to Voici, the gossip mag that published the photos. READ  

Irate Frenchman stabs pet owner over dog poo
A gardener ended up in court after seeing red over dog poo. Photo: Jon Worth/Flickr

Irate Frenchman stabs pet owner over dog poo

It seems not everyone in France can put up with dogs fouling the pavements. One irate gardener has ended up in court after confronting a dog owner and allegedly stabbing him after his animal left a deposit. READ  

Fewer foreigners gain French citizenship
Less than 100,000 people became French citizens in 2012. Photo: Shutterstock

Fewer foreigners gain French citizenship

While more and more foreigners are being naturalized across the EU, the same cannot be said in France where for the first time since 2002 the number of people granted French citizenship has fallen under the 100,000 mark. READ  

Paris and Disneyland hit by wave of pram thefts
Paris has been hit by a wave of pram thefts. Pram photo: Shutterstock/Antos777

Paris and Disneyland hit by wave of pram thefts

Hundreds of couples have been left pram-less in Paris and at Disneyland Paris in the past few months as thieves nab their costly strollers to cash in on them online. READ  

Trierweiler justifies book: 'Hollande mistreated me'
Valérie Trierweiler in an interview with the BBC. Photo: Screengrab: BBC

Trierweiler justifies book: 'Hollande mistreated me'

Valérie Trierweiler, François Hollande’s former girlfriend, has been speaking to British media about her life as the unofficial first lady and how it all fell apart. We've gathered together a few of the juiciest extracts from her interviews. READ  

Le Pen forced to justify €9m loan from Russia
France's far right has turned to a Russian lender to beef up its war chest ahead of next year's local elections. Photo: AFP

Le Pen forced to justify €9m loan from Russia

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s cash-strapped far-right National Front (FN), on Sunday justified her party's €9 million loan from a Russian Bank saying it was needed to beef up their war chest ahead of local elections, saying “French banks won’t lend to us”. READ  

Recognising Palestine?
Israel warns France of 'grave mistake'
Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu (right) has warned France of a 'grave mistake' if it recognises Palestine in a parliamentary vote. Photo: AFP

Israel warns France of 'grave mistake'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned France that its parliament would be making a "grave mistake" if it recognises a Palestinian state in a vote on December 2. READ  

Ligue 1 round-up
Gignac helps Marseille retake top spot from PSG
Marseille win to retake top spot in Ligue from PSG. Photo: AFP

Gignac helps Marseille retake top spot from PSG

Marseille regained top spot in Ligue 1 on Sunday thanks to a 3-1 win over Bordeaux. The victory keeps Marcelo Bielsa's side just one point ahead of PSG, who also won. READ  

French city bans billboards from streets
Grenoble in south-eastern France has banned all street advertising. Photo: AFP/Pierre Andrieu

French city bans billboards from streets

The eastern French city of Grenoble has become the first city in Europe to ban all commercial street advertising. The city's Green mayor says the commercials will be replaced with trees and community noticeboards. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
French government gives 10 reasons to be proud: No. 1 - The Economy
Sponsored Article
Win your Christmas list: €250 at Marks & Spencer
Politics
France's 'first ladies': A look back at the other halves
National
Would background music make the RER in Paris feel safer?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
National
Trierweiler to break her silence... in the UK
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Winter is coming to the French Alps
Gallery
Don't confuse France with Paris: Here's ten reasons why
Sponsored Article
Live like a local - anywhere in the world
National
From the homeless to migrants: A portrait of modern France in ten stats
Culture
Are you brainy enough to be Miss France? Take the quiz
Gallery
France's most notorious celebrities. How many do you know?
Society
City of Love? Seven Paris myths debunked
Education
Why is France worst in the EU at English?
National
C'est pas possible! Paris is 'world's cheapest city for young people'
National
Looking to save space? France allows toilets in kitchens for first time
National
Find out how women in France are getting stung for a hidden tax
Culture
Which one is your favourite? The top 10 heartiest French winter dishes
Face Of The Week
Nabilla - 'France's Kim Kardashian' held for attempted murder
National
So who's scaring everyone by flying drones over France’s nuclear plants?
Education
Whoever thinks French was a dying language should read this
Politics
OPINION: 'One day France will be grateful to François Hollande'
Gallery
IN IMAGES: A history of France's most controversial architecture
National
How to make an 8-square-metre Paris apartment perfectly liveable
Gallery
VIDEO: France's raunchiest TV ads, including that infamous Perrier one
National
Five reasons why you should work a ski season in France and five not to
National
10 art exhibitions not to miss this autumn in Paris
Culture
What's on in France: 11 things to do this November
National
How French have you become? Take our quiz to find out
National
10 things to never say to a French person
National
Top 10: When French translations go wrong
National
Parisian bars that serve drinkers free meals
National
France falls to Germans in nude swim tourney
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Nowhere combines sex and art quite like France
National
Why you should never turn down an invitation to a French wedding
Sport
Discover the route of the 2015 Tour de France. There are a few surprises
Gallery
Ten changes that would make learning French so much easier
Culture
IN PICTURES: 'Glass ship' Vuitton ready to set sail in Paris
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
National
'Unlike in the US the French don't put the blame on the poor'
Gallery
Cover up and don't be too Latin: French travel warnings for the US
Society
Macholand: The online uprising against sexism in France
Gallery
In pictures: The daily life of the 2,000 migrants in Calais
Culture
Erotic promo video earns the Musée d'Orsay our "Only in France" award
National
Seven reasons why everyone should work in a bar in France
National
The cost of expat home comforts: How France compares to Europe
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se