Machiavellian rogue or unassuming scapegoat? In January 2008, Jerome Kerviel, then a 31-year-old trader at Société Générale, was accused by the bank of fraudulent trading that cost the bank an astonishing $7.2 billion — the largest trading loss in history at the time.
His employers insisted that the eye-watering loss, prompted by a plunge in European equity markets, was a result of the Paris-born Kerviel’s strategy of balancing each real trade he made with a fake one, using “intimate” knowledge of the bank’s systems to avoid detection.
However, due to lack of evidence, in the end he was charged not with fraud but with breach of trust and illegally accessing computers, for which he served three years in prison – along with being fined the full amount that he lost for the bank, and banned from ever working in the financial services again. (Luckily for Kerviel the damages he was charged with were described by the bank as “symbolic,” — good luck trying to raise $7.2 billion without resorting to fraud.)
Kerviel, described by the New York Times as “a quiet loner” with “mediocre abilities” on the trading floor, countered that his activities were known to the bank’s senior management; friends insisted that he was being used as a “scapegoat” for Société Générale’s own mistakes.