• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Profile: the Frenchman who nearly broke the bank

AFP · 24 Oct 2012, 18:03

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.

Story continues below…

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
French PM suggests naked breasts represent France
A statue of Marianne at the Place de la Republique in Paris, with her left breast on show. Photo: AFP

Just as the burqini ban furore was dying down French PM Manuel Valls has stirred things up again for suggesting naked breasts were a stronger symbol of the Republic than a Muslim headscarf.

Macron quits government before likely bid for Elysée
President Hollande, left, and Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP

France's rebel Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron stepped down on Tuesday as he looks set to concentrate on replacing his boss as president of France.

What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
Competitors in the colourful Marathon du Medoc. Photo: AFP

Summer's not over just yet.

French police officer stabbed by knifeman in Toulouse
Photo: AFP

Attacker, believed to have mental health problems, targeted police officer "because he represented France", unconfirmed reports say.

French parents told to cover naked 18-month old at beach
People enjoying the sun at the Villeneuve-de-la-Raho lake near Perpignan. File photo: AFP

An 18-month-old boy cannot bathe naked, at least according to authorities in southern France.

Every fact you need to know about France's 'départements'
Photo: AFP

So what's the most populated "département" if it's not Paris? Find the answer, as well as every other need to know fact about France's 101 departments.

Brexit: You've got till 2019 Hollande warns UK
Photo: AFP

For the sake of everyone the divorce needs to happen as soon as possible, says Hollande.

UN says French burqini bans 'humiliating and degrading'
Photo: AFP

... and says the ban had fuelled religious intolerance in France.

Opinion - French schools
Ten ways France must fix its 'failing' school system
What must France do to fix its school system? Photo: AFP

Longstanding issues in French school system have not been dealt with, argues journalist and author Peter Gumbel.

Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Politics
Emmanuel Macron: The whizzkid who could shake up French politics
Education
French schools to ramp up security with 'mock attacks'
Features
Where to go in France to find the best ice cream
National
Majority in France against burqinis on beaches
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
Society
Parisians invited to swim in the Bassin de la Villette
Society
Five tips for surviving an internship in France
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Politics
Déja vu? Familiar faces in France's presidential race
National
Meet the man paying off burqini fines in France
National
Eight tips on buying wine in a French supermarket
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Society
Here's how to enjoy Paris (while avoiding the heat)
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Ten mistakes to avoid when dating a Frenchman
Society
Twelve 'French' things that aren't actually French at all
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
'World's priciest home' on sale in French Riviera for €1 billion
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
RECIPE: How to make the tastiest ratatouille
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
Paris sees Europe's biggest plunge in 'liveability'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Life on the home front in rural France's 'war on terror'
Features
Weird facts you didn't know about the French language
Society
Paris foodie event cancelled over lack of security
How to tackle six of the trickiest French verbs
National
Summer in France - 'the ideal time to find a job'
National
'Burqini bans will only divide France more'
National
French vineyards revive horse-drawn ploughs
2,750
jobs available