Suspense was supreme today, in the stifling heat of the Paris Court of Appeal. Sporting a walking stick for the last couple of days because of back pains, the French rogue trader's lawyer, David Koubbi, actually showed up in the afternoon with a black eye – resulting from an assault by a motorcyclist...Though he assured it had nothing to do with the current case, was it going to be a symbol of what is to come for the defense? More seriously, was Koubbi going to be able to plead? Nobody knew.
In any case, Koubbi's young deputy started, focusing on definitions and jurisprudence, as he tried to demonstrate that Kerviel couldn't, in fact, be found guilty of breach of trust, computer abuse and forgery, as he had been in 2010. Or at least, he was going to instill doubt. “And if there is reasonable doubt, our client has to be acquitted,” he said. He gave a couple of examples of “reasonable doubt”.
“Société Générale stated that Kerviel was not mandated to take directional positions, when in fact, he had no mandate at all, pointed out the lawyer, as nothing in his job description mentioned a mandate.” Same thing for the trading limit. “The so-called trading limit was [exceeded] 2000 times in 2007 by the desk”, announced the young lawyer. “And guess what, nobody was ever punished for that! How could we talk about breach of trust in this case,” he rhetorically asked. He went on to explain that as a trader, Kerviel was only responsible for reporting what is called “pre-operation”. Hence when the rogue trader faked emails to show he had (non-existing) counterparts, he was not legally bound. The back-office was supposed to check the information and officially report the completed operation.
All this was fine, but was Koubbi going to make the show or not? Everybody was fidgety in the courtroom. He finally did, but started in a more somber mood than usual. Calm and collected, he strived to show, as opposed to what the Attorney General had stated, that a lot of new things had been discovered during the appeal trial: The “courageous” witnesses who took the stand demonstrated that Société Génerale “had to know” and the bank's risk-control had been proven to be lax, at best, he stated.
“That the old lady (referring to an expression used by the Attorney General about the venerable bank) was blind because she was old, ok, but hiring deaf and mute staff for the back-office, that's too much,” he exclaimed, eliciting laughter in the crowd. “There is no Kerviel affair, but a Société Générale affair,” he assured the Court.
As time passed, he was becoming his old self again. “Société Générale is lying”, he boomed, punctuating his assertions with heavy silences. Lying when it assured it didn't know, lying when it released redacted reports on what happened and when it edited taped phone conversations between traders. “All this to incriminate a sole trader, when many others were doing the same thing, taking risks to make profits, going over the limit, even faking trades in the computers to offset operations. He was not alone, he pounded, and because of that, he should be exonerated.”
Becoming more personal — he even once used Kerviel's first name, Jerome, though quickly reversed to Mister Kerviel — he went on to state that the bank's witnesses always used intricate explanations to confuse the Court, that the bank orchestrated a media campaign against his client, and that there was a marketplace and political solidarity in favor of the venerable bank. All this may be true, but it sounded more like a blanket statement.
Only deepening the malaise, Kerviel left the courtroom a few times, white as a sheet - may be because of the heat, or because he was nervous. Koubbi went on, his walking stick falling on the parquet floor of the Court. He was now openly emotional, even lyrical, as he called Kerviel “a generous, honest human being”, and confessed he had been “honored” to defend him - when he finally asked for his acquittal.
“And even if you find him guilty, don't order him to pay damages or to go to prison,” he implored. “He has been in prison for four years already (since the loss was made public), he has had no life, his reputation has been tarnished, his family has been harassed, his mother has fallen ill,” he said, going here, there, and everywhere. And the crowd applauded!
No wonder the no-non-sense head judge was appalled as she closed the trial. “We will ponder, debate and give our verdict on October 24th, 2012,” she said.
Time to go on recess for the Court, and time for the lawyers to play the media crowd. Kerviel had regained his composure. He will “serenely” await the verdict, he said. Oh, really?