Kerviel: 'ordinary' man in huge bank scandal
Jerome Kerviel stands accused of deceitfully juggling billions of euros in rogue deals that humiliated a huge bank but the French ex-trader casts himself as a simple soul caught up in others' greed.
The 33-year-old goes on trial on Tuesday accused of gambling away nearly five billion euros (six billion dollars) in risky covert deals when he was a star trader at Societe Generale, one of France's three biggest banks.
Branded a crook by his ex-employer and a mere scapegoat by others, Kerviel insists his bosses knew what he was doing and turned a blind eye to possible breaches of rules as long as he made profits.
Even as he racked up billions for the bank in its skyscraper in Paris's La Defense 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 Societe Generale was driven to unwind 50 billion euros 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 euros 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," the sign of a simple lifestyle, 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 lots of traders who came from elite schools.
Societe Generale says he worked out how to circumvent complex risk-control mechanisms and its lawyer Jean Veil has accused him of "duplicity" in reassuring his employers that all was well.
Kerviel said he will seek acquittal on the charges of breach of trust, falsifying and using fake documents and entering false data into company computers, for which he faces up to five years' jail and a 375,000-euro fine.
"I am a man who made mistakes in a bank which for a long time allowed them because it was profiting," he wrote in a memoir published last month, in which he described the profession as a "big banking orgy."
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 President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party but was not elected. He told the newspaper Liberation 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 Societe General 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.
In an interview with Liberation, he said 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 recent 3D fantasy "Avatar."
Kerviel spent 38 days in custody after his arrest in 2008 and has since started a job at a small IT company in a suburb of Paris. He has appeared for interviews in recent weeks smoking heavily and with bags under his eyes.
He says he hopes his trial will teach people the lessons of the global financial crisis.
"Respect for work, solidarity, honesty -- I grew up with these notions," he told Liberation. "But when I became a trader, I lost part of these morals."
© 2010 AFP