When Société Générale announced Jan. 24 that it had been the victim of a 4.9 billion euro fraud, the French bank’s CEO Daniel Bouton said it was the work of “one man,” a trader acting alone to evade the bank’s control procedures.
The bank continued to repeat that version of their story over the next two weeks, but then changed their account when investigators discovered messages on Kerviel’s computer that he had written to a trader at a Société Générale subsidiary – just before a key detention hearing for Kerviel on Feb. 8.
At the hearing, judges in Paris ordered that Kerviel – who had been free - should be held in pretrial detention to protect the integrity of the investigation and "prevent consultation with possible accomplices."
Société Générale’s lawyer Jean Veil told the French business daily Les Echos that day: “What we know at this stage is that the two traders were friends that they communicated. Was the trader under investigation simply aware of what Jérôme Kerviel was doing, had he assisted and helped him? The investigation will demonstrate, in this kind of situation, that we have to be careful, and that’s the reason that I think the detention is necessary.”
According to Guillaume Selnet, one of Kerviel’s lawyers, the bank’s change of story was an attempt to ensure that Kerviel would be taken into custody. “The company has reversed itself about the thesis of it being an isolated act—which is what it had been saying since the beginning—on the eve of the hearing regarding Jérôme’s detention, inventing at that moment an accomplice that doesn’t exist, with the goal of assuring that Jérôme Kerviel be sent into detention, which is what took place,” Selnet said Friday in an interview with FRANCE 24.
Veil, who has been acting as the bank’s chief spokesman since the crisis began, was unreachable for comment Friday evening, and a PR agency retained by the bank was unable to contact him.
The question of an accomplice
While the judges were discussing Kerviel’s detention, another trader, who worked for a Société Générale affiliate called Newedge (formerly Fimat), was being questioned about his possible role in the affair. Earlier in the week, investigators had discovered nearly 2,000 pages of instant messages Kerviel had exchanged with the other trader via their trading terminals. (Excerpts from the messages were published by the AFP and the French magazine Nouvel Observateur Feb. 9.)
Kerviel’s correspondent, Moussa Bakir, was released the next day, Feb. 9, after judges ruled that he should be a witness in the case but not a target of the investigation.
“The illustrious accomplice in question was taken into custody during Jérôme’s time in custody,” said Selnet. “Jérôme was taken into custody, and the following day it was understood that there was no accomplice because he had been released.”
Kerviel has been in the Santé prison since February 8th, and his two lawyers are focusing their efforts on getting him released, saying that they are “extremely impressed” by the “courage” of their client who “has not cracked.”
Due to recent provisional detention reforms, such a time in custody cannot exceed four months and must be justified. The trader’s lawyers contest this decision of taking him into custody and also filed an appeal on Feburary 12th, emphasizing that the incarceration is unfounded. “The dentention of Jérôme Kerviel is founded on no motive provided in the law, “ according to Selnet.
When asked about the daily routine of his client, Selnet responded that “he has the sort of routine that any other prisoner has. I think that he spends his time pacing in his cell, thinking about what happened, and trying to keep his calm by thinking about the future.”
On Feburary 15th, Moussa Bakir’s lawyer pressed charges against X for “forgery, the use of forgery and false accusation.” This charge is targeting the publication of excerpts of instant-messages exchanged between the two traders which had been “truncated or falsified,” according to the lawyer. “I don’t know by whom they have been manipulated, but the method was used while my client was in custody to give credence to the thesis of complicity with Jérôme Kerviel,” he told Reuters.