French Media Puzzle over SocGen Rogue Trader

A day after Societe Generale unveiled a fraud that cost it 4.9 billion euros ($7.18 billion), France's media was left wondering about a rogue trader described variously as a genius of fraud and a troubled introvert.

Jerome Kerviel, Societe Generale bank trader accused of fraud.
Jerome Kerviel, Societe Generale bank trader accused of fraud.

Dubbed "the man who blew up the bank" by the daily Le Parisien, 31 year-old Jerome Kerviel's unsmiling face adorned the covers of most of the French press on Friday, a day after his name was linked with the largest fraud in banking history.

Societe Generale has still not confirmed the identity of the dealer, but Kerviel's name surfaced within hours of the announcement on Thursday and was confirmed by banking sources.

France's financial establishment, from the economy minister downwards, has closed ranks to blame the shock loss on a single wrongdoer, whom Bank of France Governor Christian Noyer described on Thursday as a "genius of fraud."

But his character and motivation and even his whereabouts are still a riddle, although his lawyer said that he was not on the run and was ready to cooperate with investigators.

"I am sure he is very scared," said Nick Leeson, the rogue trader who cost Barings -- bankers to Queen Elizabeth II -- $1.4 billion in the 1990s and is one of the few people really able to imagine his situation.

"I would imagine as well that yesterday morning there would have been a perverse sense of relief because he has not been able to bring it to an end himself," Leeson told Irish public broadcaster RTE.

Family Woes

Colleagues at Societe General's gleaming headquarters in La Defense, the skyscraper-filled financial district just outside Paris, have been given instructions not to talk to the media and information about his private life has been sparse.

A children's judo teacher with an interest in sailing and a working knowledge of English, according to a CV that has been circulating widely, he was reported to have lost his father some years ago and to have recently broken up with a girlfriend.

Kerviel, a graduate of universities in Nantes and Lyon, with a master's degree in finance, had moved from the back office of the bank to become an apprentice trader in the dealing room.

"He was an introvert, who was generally pretty ill at ease," one former colleague told Le Parisien.

However, another office mate saw him in a different light.

"He wasn't a show off. He was more a good-looking guy, a bit like Tom Cruise. I thought he was a bit of a crawler with his bosses," said the anonymous colleague.

And although Noyer also described him as a "computer genius," the only IT skills he lists are "Microsoft Office Package - Visual Basic."

Outside what is believed to be his former flat in the exclusive suburb of Neuilly near Paris, the concierge had left a cryptic note for the reporters on his trail:

"Journalists, to make your work easier: Kerviel unknown in the building, apartment rented or sublet to tenants of Asian appearance who speak English, don't look here, he's probably long gone."