• France's news in English

Profile: the Frenchman who nearly broke the bank

AFP · 24 Oct 2012, 18:03

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

UK border must move back, says 'next French president'
Photo: AFP

If favourite Alain Juppé is elected, Britain and France are in for some difficult negotiations.

Homeless man does a runner from France's top restaurants
Photo: Prayitno/Flickr

"A man's gotta eat," he told police, after racking up gigantic bills in some of France's plushest restaurants.

Underwater museum hopes to make a splash in Marseille
A similar underwater museum piece by Jason deCaires Taylor. Photo: julie rohloff/Flickr

Don't forget your scuba gear...

Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Photo: Jacme/Flickr

Move over Paris...

And France's top chef of the year is... 'Monsieur Idiot'
Alexandre Couillon might have an unfortunate name, but he can sure cook!. Photo: AFP

Look beyond the name. He's the man who turned his family's humble "moules frites" joint into one of France's best seafood restaurants.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
Want to drive a scooter around Paris? Here's what you need to know
jobs available