• 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
Man in 70s wounds two in French supermarket shooting
Photo: AFP

Police SWAT team surrounds man's apartment.

Paris makes 'history' by banning cars on river bank

The French capital is going green with a vengeance.

France's hospital doctors stage strike to highlight crisis
Photo: AFP

Unions have called for a "massive" walk-out among hospital doctors.

France's last 'real Camembert' cheese fights for survival
All photos: Charly Triballeau/AFP

It's a cheese maker's take on David and Goliath.

PSG's Serge Aurier sentenced to jail for attack on policeman
Photo: AFP

PSG player had attacked a police officer outside a night club on the Champs Elysées.

Paris city chiefs ready to let nudists hang out in park
Photo: AFP

A nudist park in Paris? "We're going to do it," says City Hall.

Hollande calls on UK to help solve Calais migrant crisis
Photo: AFP

The French president knows that immigration is a key issue of the presidential election battle.

Air France plane dumps fuel 'over Fontainebleau forest'
Photo: AFP

The mayor of the famous town near Paris is furious.

IN PICS: Walkers and cyclists take over Paris streets
Photo: Paris City Hall

Did you make the most of the car-free day in Paris on Sunday?

'War crimes committed in Aleppo': French UN envoy
A tractor clears rubble after a government strike on rebel areas of Aleppo. Photo: Thaer Mohammed/ AFP

France's envoy to the United Nations has called for an urgent Security Council meet on the war crimes he asserts are being committed in Aleppo.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Features
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Society
Take the test: How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Lifestyle
Eleven things you should know before moving to Paris
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
National
France among Europe's priciest for train travel
National
Paris set to make river bank car-free for six-month trial
2,727
jobs available