French trader ‘fabulous fab’ guilty of fraud

French trader Fabrice Tourre, known as 'Faboulous Fab', a former Goldman Sachs banker, was convicted by jurors in New York on Thursday of committing fraud in a mortgage-linked security sale that floundered.

French trader 'fabulous fab' guilty of fraud
'Fabulous fab' - Trader Fabrice Tourre. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand

Tourre, 34, was found liable on six of the seven counts of fraud alleged by the Securities and Exchange Commission during the two-week trial. The jury returned the verdict on the second day of deliberations.

Tourre, clad in a grey suit with a purple tie, sat silently as the verdict was read. After riding an elevator down in silence, Tourre avoided all comment as cameras followed him outside the court on a rainy Thursday.

A spokesman for Tourre also had no immediate comment.

US District Judge Katherine Forrest set a three-week deadline for attorneys from both sides to provide briefs on the next steps. Possible penalties against Tourre include a large fine and a barring from future work in the securities industry.

The Frenchman became the face of Wall Street greed after the SEC accused him of constructing fraudulent deals that ended up losing clients millions of dollars.

The verdict marks an important victory for the SEC, which has struggled to prosecute fraud cases in the aftermath of the crisis.

The case focused on whether Tourre had misled investors in preparing and marketing a complex security transaction known as a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) that cratered after the housing bust.

Tourre was left to fight the case himself after Goldman settled with the agency for $550 million in 2010 without admitting fault.

Tourre insisted during testimony that he had not misled investors. But the jurors' verdict showed they did not believe his version of events.

The SEC hailed the verdict as a win for taxpayers and shareholders and for honest markets.

"We're obviously gratified with the jury's verdict," SEC attorney Matthew Martens said outside the courtroom. "We appreciate their hard work."

A written statement by SEC co-director of enforcement Andrew Ceresney said Tourre "put together a complicated financial product that was secretly designed to maximize the likelihood that it would fail, and marketed and sold it to investors without appropriate disclosure."

"We will continue to vigorously seek to hold accountable, and bring to trial when necessary, those who commit fraud on Wall Street," Ceresney said.

The SEC had depicted Tourre as a slick operator who misled investors on key details of the transaction.

At Goldman Sachs in early 2007, Tourre designed the complex "Abacus" CDO investment, which packaged higher-risk mortgage-backed securities.

During the two-week trial, a former executive with financial group ACA, Laura Schwartz, testified that she believed from her interactions with Tourre that a hedge fund led by John Paulson was betting the value of Abacus would rise when in fact Paulson was betting it would fall.

In addition to ACA, Dutch banking giant ABN-Amro and its German cousin IKB lost money on Abacus. The SEC estimates investors' losses at about $1 billion in all, while Paulson made $1 billion and Goldman Sachs gained $15 million commissions.

Tourre's defense attorneys communicated confidence after the defendant's marathon testimony, surprising observers by not calling any defense witnesses.

The defense argued that the investors in question were highly sophisticated players who understood the investment and were not misled by Tourre.

Defense attorneys pointed to testimony from a former Paulson fund official Paolo Pellegrini, who said under oath that he had told Schwartz that Paulson
had bet that subprime investments would fall.

Tourre's attorneys also noted that Paulson's beliefs that the housing market was overvalued were well-known at the time due to prominent news coverage.

The defense also sought to win sympathy from jurors from Tourre's personal story, which included a rise in finance from a modest background in France and subsequent fall due to a case that it depicted as trumped-up and weak on evidence.

Tourre referred to himself as "Fabulous Fab" in one infamous email to his girlfriend that appeared to make light of the risky investment. Tourre's
attorney dismissed the email as a silly, immature note that was irrelevant to the proceeding.

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Massive Côte du Rhône fine-wine fraud uncovered by French police

Some 66.5 million bottles of wine, the equivalent of 13 Olympic sized swimming pools full of plonk, was falsely sold as high quality Côtes-du-Rhône wine, French officials have revealed.

Massive Côte du Rhône fine-wine fraud uncovered by French police
Photo: Flickr

Almost half a million hectolitres of wine was sold off under the Côtes du Rhône AOC label – which denotes both the geographical origin of the wine and a certification of quality. 

Some of the wine, 10,000 litres in fact, was even falsely sold under the renowned Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOP label, the commercial value off which was €7000,000.

The massive fraud was revealed in a report this week by France's consumer fraud body the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCDRF).

Their inquiry into the 2017 scam unearthed a “massive misuse of the Côtes-du-Rhône label” including by a major wine producer, which has not been named.

But DGCCRF chief executive Virginie Beaumeunier told the press that the “CEO of the company” was “indicted for deception and fraud”.

Wine fraud in France has become an issue for authorities and customers alike in recent years with the problem being highlighted by the jailing in 2016 of a French wine baron.

Francois-Marie Marret was given a two-year sentence for fraud for blending poor quality wine with high-end Saint-Emilions, Lalande-de-Pomerols and Listrac-Medocs to sell to major supermarkets under prestigious labels.

The 800,000-litre (211,000-gallon) “moon wine” fraud, so called because the cheap wine was spirited to his operation by night, was uncovered thanks to the diligent work of French customs inspectors.



The hunt for fraudsters in France's wine heartlands

The country has been hit by several fraud scandals in recent years.

In 2010, 12 French winemakers and dealers were convicted of selling millions of bottles of fake Pinot Noir to the US firm E&J Gallo.

Before that, in 2006 legendary Beaujolais winemaker Georges Duboeuf was fined more than 30,000 euros for blending grapes from different vineyards to disguise the poor quality of certain prized vintages.