Sunday, January 27, 2008

SocGen accused of smokescreen after loss

(FT) Lawyers for Jérôme Kerviel, the French trader accused by Société Générale of massive fraud, hit back at the bank on Sunday, accusing it of creating a “smokescreen” to divert attention from other losses.

The lawyers insisted that Mr Kerviel “did not commit any dishonest act, nor embezzle a single cent, and he in no way benefited from the bank’s funds”.

Elisabeth Meyer and Christian Charrière-Bournazel told Agence France Presse that SocGen wanted to “raise a smokescreen that would distract the public’s attention from far more substantial losses that it had made in recent months, notably in the unbelievable subprime affair”.

They also said that the timing of the bank’s decision to close positions relating to Mr Kerviel’s trading and the manner it executed these trades “itself provoked the losses of €4.5bn”. The lawyers also claimed that Mr Kerviel’s trading was in profit to the tune of €1.5bn ($2.2bn, £1.1bn) at December 31.

SocGen declined to comment on the lawyers’ allegations. However, the bank is standing by its original statement, according to a person close to the bank.

Earlier, SocGen revealed more about how Mr Kerviel concealed trades as it sought to dispel growing scepticism about its initial version of events that the bank said had led to it suffering €4.9bn of losses.

The bank said Mr Kerviel – a 31-year-old junior trader on its European equities arbitrage team who gave himself up to police on Saturday and was still being held for questioning last night – committed an “exceptional fraud”.

It described how the alleged rogue trader created “fictitious operations” that were registered in SocGen’s systems “but did not actually correspond to any economic reality”.

Though he was only supposed to buy futures – bets on the direction of European markets – if they were covered by a hedge – a similar position limiting any loss – he used other people’s access codes and “falsified documents” to create fake hedges, leaving the bank exposed to the full downside.

SocGen said he had evaded detection for almost a year by only choosing “very specific operations with no cash movements or margin call and which did not require immediate confirmation” and by constantly switching between different types of instrument.

By January 18, when he was finally caught, he had positions worth €30bn on the Euro Stoxx, an index of Europe’s biggest companies, €18bn on Germany’s Dax and €2bn on the UK’s FTSE.

SocGen said he seemed to have been acting alone and to not have profited from his actions, but it promised to say more after completing an internal audit.

Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, is expected to raise the question of tightening risk controls in the world’s banking system when he meets the UK, German and Italian heads of government in London tomorrow.

The French Banking Commission will this afternoon hold its first meeting to examine the fraud as its own investigation gets under way. The government and the French stock market authority will be present and the discussions will contribute to the contents of a report to be prepared by the finance ministry for François Fillon, prime minister.

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