U.S. News

SocGen Report: Management Failures Allowed Fraud

By Katrin Bennhold|The New York Times

Serious management failures by immediate superiors allowed a rogue trader at Societe Generale to commit the biggest fraud in financial history, according to an internal report to be released Friday.

The report raises questions about whether the trader, Jerome Kerviel, had an accomplice at the bank.

The two direct supervisors of Mr. Kerviel are facing possible dismissal, as is Mr. Kerviel’s former trading assistant, according to people with direct knowledge of the bank’s action.

The report, which was written by internal auditors, will suggest that Mr. Kerviel himself probably did not manipulate Societe Generale's computer system to enter large unauthorized bets under someone else’s name. Instead, the report concludes that on several occasions, his assistant, Thomas Mougard, did it for him, raising questions about the role of Mr. Mougard in the trading.

Mr. Mougard has denied ever knowingly entering fictitious transactions himself.

By spreading the responsibility beyond Mr. Kerviel, whom the bank blames for bringing about 4.9 billion euro ($7.7 billion) in losses, the report could make the French bank more vulnerable to a lawsuit seeking class-action status that has been filed in the United States, lawyers said.

The auditors implicated Mr. Kerviel’s two immediate supervisors on the Delta One derivatives trading desk as being negligent, although the report does not name them explicitly, according to the person who has seen the report.

“What this report makes clear is that the supervisors of Jérôme Kerviel did not do their job,” said the person, who declined to be identified, citing the confidential nature of the report. “They had a 9-in-10 chance of discovering what was going on.”

The supervisors were Eric Cordelle, Mr. Kerviel’s immediate manager, and Martial Rouyère, who heads the Delta One desk.

Societe Generale shareholders gathering for their annual meeting in Paris on Tuesday may find some comfort in a separate report, also to be released Friday. e auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is expected to say that since the scandal, Societe Generale has identified the right steps to address shortcomings in its risk control systems and will urge the bank to put the measures in place, the person who read both reports said.

Societe Generale said last month that it would invest as much as 100 million euros this year to improve its risk-management systems. After 75 alerts failed to expose Mr. Kerviel’s activities, the bank added controls creating a cumulative record of each trader’s alert history that makes it easier to detect patterns. And the bank said it would set up an internal fraud investigation group separate from its risk-control and trading divisions.

The two reports scheduled for release Friday were commissioned by a committee of independent directors created in January to study the mechanisms that Mr. Kerviel used to hide his activities and to identify the lapses that enabled him to expose the bank secretly to 50 billion euros worth of risk — more than the market value of the bank itself.

The internal audit completes a preliminary draft published in February, which had identified the 75 alerts.

One of Societe Generale's lawyers, Jean Veil, played down the importance of the final report, arguing that it offered few insights. Auditors, he said, simply “confirmed earlier findings.” But when the last report was published Feb. 20, auditors had not yet been able to interview Mr. Cordelle, Mr. Rouyère and others who at the time were busy testifying in the police investigation.

There is nothing in the latest internal report that suggested involvement of anyone in the hierarchy above Mr. Rouyere, the person who read it said. Mr. Rouyere’s boss, Pierre-Yves Morlat, the head of trading, and Mr. Morlat’s superior, Luc François, Société Générale’s former head of equities and derivatives, have both resigned and left the bank.

The findings Friday are unlikely to change much for the criminal inquiry. Mr. Kerviel, who has admitted to fabricating trades and forging documents to hide his activity, is the only one formally under investigation.

Mr. Kerviel has never disputed the bank’s claim that he was the sole architect of an elaborate ruse involving scores of fake trades. He has said, however, he would not be made a “scapegoat” for the bank’s lapses in controls.