Fraud investigators were last night questioning a second French trader, suspected of helping, or at least covering up, the activities of , Jérôme Kerviel, the alleged €5bn (£3.7bn) man. The unexpected development influenced a decision by the Paris appeal court last night to reverse a previous ruling and to place M. Kerviel in custody for a second time.
The new arrest follows the discovery of an electronic message, sent last November, in which a fellow trader assured M. Kerviel that he had "done nothing illegal, as far as the law is concerned". The man who sent the message, Moussa Bakir, 32, worked for a brokerage company called Fimat, which was a subsidiary at that time of M. Kerviel's employer, Société Gé*érale. This company acted as the middleman in part of the €50bn tangle of unauthorised trades on European shares futures undertaken by M. Kerviel, 31, over the past 18 months.
Until now both SocGen and M. Kerviel have insisted that he acted alone in the immense gambles which lost the bank €4.82bn, the highest-ever losses by an unauthorised single trader. The arrest of M. Bakir on Thursday followed the disclosure to fraud investigators by SocGen of transcripts of internal, instant electronic messages, or "chat", including conversations between the two men.
A lawyer representing M. Bakir said last night that he was "entirely serene" about his client's role in the affair. He suggested the arrest had been timed to influence an appeal court hearing in Paris yesterday in which prosecutors attempted to reverse a decision by investigating magistrates to free M. Kerviel.
Prosecutors asked for M. Kerviel to be returned to custody for several reasons, including the risk that he might contact possible accomplices. The appeal court ruled last night in their favour after a hearing behind closed doors.
Jean-David Scemama, the lawyer representing M. Bakir, said: "I am entirely serene about his prospects. My serenity is based on the facts, as reported to me." M. Scemama said, however, that he was "astonished" by the "coincidence" between the arrest and yesterday's appeal court hearing.
M. Bakir works for Fimat, a brokerage company, which was a subsidiary of SocGen until last month. It has now merged with another company, belonging to another French bank and changed its name to Newedge.
Internal instant emails between the two traders, traced by SocGen, include a message on 30 November last year in which M. Bakir reassured M. Kerviel: "Tu *'as rien fait d'illégal au sens de la loi." (You have done nothing illegal, as far as the law is concerned.)
This implies – but does not prove – that he was aware that M. Kerviel was making unauthorised trades. It does not necessarily suggest that he was helping, or benefiting from, his activities.
Market experts have questioned from the beginning whether it would have been possible for M. Kerviel to make such huge, unauthorised trades without the help of an internal, or external, accomplice.
SocGen is said to have discovered the electronic messages on Wednesday and handed transcripts to investigators. Police arrested M. Bakir on Thursday and then searched the Fimat office in the centre of Paris for many hours. M. Bakir's arrest warrant was extended for a second day at lunchtime yesterday.
M. Kerviel arrived for yesterday's appeal court hearing in his lawyer's car and entered the Palais de Justice on the Ile de Cité in central Paris without talking to the press. It was his first public appearance since the scandal broke two weeks ago, apart from an interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency on Tuesday.
In the interview, M. Kerviel admitted that he had "lost touch with reality" and lost track of the huge sums involved in his unauthorised trades. He added, however, that he would not let SocGen make him the sole "scapegoat" for the scandal. He had earlier told investigators that the bank knew that unauthorised trading was widespread but turned a "blind eye" as long as profits were being made.
M. Kerviel is under formal investigation for abuse of trust, forgery and computer hacking.Reuse content