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Kerviel Apologizes to SocGen Employers at Close of Appeal

Former Societe General Trader Jerome Kerviel
Jerome Kerviel argues his superiors knew he was exceeding trading limits, so he didn’t betray their trust or commit other crimes he was found guilty of in 2010. Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg

Jerome Kerviel apologized to Societe Generale SA employees and said he “never lied” during the investigation into the bank’s 4.9 billion-euro ($6.1 billion) trading loss, as his lawyers asked a Paris court to clear him of any wrongdoing on the final day of his hearing.

Kerviel, 35, is fighting a 2010 guilty verdict, for which he was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to repay the bank for its losses. Prosecutors this week asked for the maximum five years, a tougher recommendation than the lower court prosecution requested.

“At no point did I ever lie to the justice system,” Kerviel said, standing to speak yesterday after about five hours of closing statements by his lawyers. He asked for the “forgiveness” of the Societe Generale employees, adding “they have suffered in the system in which I took part.”

The court is to issue its decision Oct. 24. Kerviel and his lawyers didn’t back down from the aggressive strategy they’ve pursued in their appeal. Defense attorneys conceded their client admitted to exceeding trading limits, falsifying documents and lying to people who questioned him about his bets and faked hedges he created to mask the losses. They argued that none of the actions rose to the level of a crime in France.

Kerviel said throughout the proceeding that his superiors knew what he was doing and advanced a theory that the bank allowed him to take such risks in order to use him as a scapegoat and distract from its losses on the U.S. subprime mortgage market.

‘Get the Benefit’

“Jerome Kerviel must get the benefit of the doubt, he must be cleared,” said Julien Dami Le Coz, one of his lawyers. He focused on the technicalities of the law, arguing that since there weren’t individual limits on traders, there was no abuse of trust. The lawyer also argued that the falsified documents couldn’t count as crimes under French law because the amounts Kerviel was claiming -- his bets had risen to 50 billion euros by the time the bank discovered them -- “couldn’t fool” anyone.

If Kerviel should be condemned again, his lead lawyer, David Koubbi, called for a sentence “he could survive.”

Koubbi frequently clashed with Mireille Filippini, who led the panel of three judges overseeing the appeal. Yesterday, he continued to criticize the court, saying “nothing has been respected in this case,” and calling the lower court’s ruling “absurd.”

Kerviel has changed legal teams at least four times since the bank loss was announced Jan. 24, 2008. The current team, which took over about three months before the hearings began June 4, “decided to take on the defense fully, to let nothing slip by, to respond blow for blow,” co-counsel Benoit Pruvost said.

‘In the Gallery’

Yesterday’s hearing was marked as much for what occurred in the gallery as for the arguments before the judges. Koubbi, who began using a cane last week to help with his back, arrived with a black eye from a fight he got into with a man on a scooter last night during a traffic jam, Agence France-Presse said, citing Koubbi.

Kerviel left the courtroom three times and Filippini called a 20-minute recess at one point as he rushed out with Pruvost from the un-air-conditioned courtroom. Temperatures in Paris yesterday reached 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Kerviel mopped his brow often during the hearing and splashed water on his face. He was also attended to by Tristane Banon, who sat in the audience. Koubbi gained renown last year when he represented Banon, a French writer who accused former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape.

The Paris prosecutor dropped the case, saying it lacked evidence, though Koubbi claimed victory when the prosecutors said they wouldn’t pursue sexual assault claims due to the statute of limitations.

Koubbi compared the two cases, saying they are “systematically the same,” comparing Kerviel and Banon as two people fighting a system.

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