Five minutes to dispose of a lifetime: the court official had hardly barked “The court” to open the session, people had hardly risen and then sat down when Mireille Filippini, head judge of the French court of appeal, started reading the one page-ruling in a staccato fashion. The lower court's decision is upheld, she read, meaning rogue trader Jerome Kerviel will spend three years in prison, will be barred from trading activities on financial markets for life and will be expected to reimburse the €4.9 billion loss ($6.4 billion) incurred by his former employer, French bank Société Générale, when it unwound Kerviel's fraudulent 50 billion euro position in 2008. All that took five minutes at the most. The head judge had other things to do, she said.
Clad in a dark suit and wearing a black tie, Kerviel seemed ready for a wake when he showed up in court. He had prepared for the worse, obviously, and didn't flinch when he heard the verdict. In fact, it could have been worse. The prosecution had asked for five years in jail at the appeal hearing, which took place in June 2012. And Mireille Filippini didn't request that he be sent to jail directly after the announcement as she could have. Kerviel stood still, drinking some water. His going to jail - in a few days, most likely - will be subject to negotiations between the prosecution and his lawyers.
Though Kerviel and his lawyers were accustomed to play the media, they left through a side door this time. The French trader's chief lawyer, David Koubbi, just conceded before he left that he had lost. “We defended our client with vigor, but it was to no avail. The appeal didn't change the lower court's decision," he said ruefully, adding that the decision was a “terrible injustice." “We will go home now, support Mr. Kerviel and work to see if we can move to a higher court to rescind the verdict," he said. Outside the court room, the Société Général's counsels were having a field day, granting interviews right and left, saying how they felt “vindicated” after Kerviel's fraudulent activities tarnished the good name of the bank.
Nothing was said on its responsibility, as the bank oversaw with more than lax controls its trading room operations in the late 2000. Quite the opposite: “Jerome Kerviel was the sole creator and user of a fraudulent system that caused damages to Société Générale," the ruling pointed out. Soon, outside the court room, the media fair was over. It was time for the head judge to receive young lawyers, being sworn in and embarking on their new career. A new life for them. Most likely a miserable one for Kerviel. Other traders who think of quickly making money on the markets with faked trades can only pay heed.
See blogs on trial by Irene Frat.