• 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
Pokémon Go sparks chaos and concern in France
Teenagers sprint through a park in Bordeaux, not in panic, but in search of a rare Pokemon. Photo: MonsieurBright/YouTube

Videos of hundreds of people sprinting through a park would normally be cause for panic in France at the moment.

The ten places where you really need to speak French
Photo: Lily A./Flickr

There are some places and situations in France where you just have to speak French.

Isis can be a conduit for psychopaths' violent desires
A pilce of rubbish marks the spot where Nice truck attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was shot by police.

Isis did not create these attackers, they were well on their way.

Angry Marseille Muslim ends up in war of words with Isis
Photo: Facebook Henni Mohamed/AFP

"Who do you think you are, the Power Rangers?" Marseille man's foul-mouthed fighting talk provokes Isis to respond.

Thousands of travellers face seven-day Air France strike
Photo: mariordo59/Flickr

The strike is set to run from July 27th to August 2nd and as many as 130,000 passengers could be affected.

No, Dover travel chaos wasn't French revenge for Brexit

What a load of Brex**it. Resources, not revenge, is the big issue for the French.

The worst scams to avoid whilst driving in France
A French motorway. Photo: Maelick/Flickr

Don't get caught out by these common ploys gangs of thieves have used to target motorists in France.

Hoax bomb found at Paris Metro station
Photo: AFP

Bomb squad called in to a Paris Metro station after the discovery of a bag with a walkie-talkie antenna and red wires sticking out.

Five key moments in Chris Froome' Tour de France win
The victorious Christopher Froome. Photo: AFP

Here are the key moments that earned Christopher Froome his third Tour de France victory.

Terror attack in Nice
Policewoman's Nice claims leave government in crisis
Photo: AFP

The pressure is mounting on the French government after a policewoman claimed she was pressured to change her report over security measures in Nice on the night of the July 14th attack.

Sponsored Article
5 reasons to try dating in Paris with The Inner Circle
Analysis & Opinion
Isis can simply be a conduit for the violent desires of psychopaths
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Features
Six outdoor bars in Paris you simply must visit
Culture
The open-air Villette cinema has been cancelled over security fears
Culture
Henri Rousseau exhibition proves huge hit in Paris
National
Frenchman caught trying to sell Nice massacre souvenirs online
Society
OPEN NOW: Here's why you should head to the Paris Plages
Culture
What's on in France: Still plenty to see and do in July
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Lifestyle
Treasures of Versailles to go on display in Australia
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
National
Nice attack: What we know so far
National
Nice attacker: Body-building, drug-taking, violent flirt
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
National
IN IMAGES: Drawings in tribute to Nice attack victims
Society
Promenade des Anglais: The iconic heart of the French Riviera
France faces more questions after latest deadly attack
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
Why is France the target of choice for jihadist attacks?
National
Nice truck attack: 'Bodies went flying like bowling pins'
Nice attack: Families of missing make pleas on Twitter
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Politics
Boris Johnson cheered and booed at Bastille Day party
National
Ten reasons not to leave Paris this summer
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Ten ways other expats in France drive you mad
'Very Stupid' village in France honoured for its silly name
Travel
Ten crazy things to do in France if you dare
Society
Paris: an obstacle course for wheelchair users
2,767
jobs available