VERSAILLES, France (Reuters) - Former Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) trader Jerome Kerviel is liable for only 1 million euros ($1.12 million) of the 4.9 billion euros in losses he racked up at the bank, and not the whole amount, a French court ruled on Friday.
The ruling by the Versailles Court of Appeals, the latest in a series of judgments on a case dating back to 2008, leaves a question mark hanging over whether the government can reclaim the 2.2 billion euros of tax reliefs which SocGen obtained against the losses if Kerviel was not held wholly liable.
Industry analysts have said that would put its dividend at risk and affect its capital adequacy ratios.
Kerviel was sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted by a Paris court in October 2010 for breach of trust and fraud over the losses caused by disastrous trades in equity derivatives.
Initially he was ordered to repay the total amount of losses incurred by SocGen, but subsequent rulings struck down that decision, and in June a public prosecutor said the bank “had left the door open” for Kerviel to act illegally.
The Versailles court, charged with deciding how much Kerviel should actually be liable for, agreed broadly with that view.
Kerviel did indeed commit fraud, it said. But it added:
”Multiple errors committed by the bank played a major and determining role in the causal processes behind the very significant harm that was done to it.
“Therefore, reparations for Societ Generale attributable to Jerome Kerviel should only amount to 1 million euros.”
The liability issue potentially put the tax deductibility of the loss at risk, according to the government and Kerviel’s legal team.
Junior Budget Minister Christian Eckert reiterated that the government would be interested in recovering the tax and said that he, along with Finance Minister Michel Sapin had asked the French tax authorities to look into Friday’s court judgment.
Kerviel’s lawyer David Koubbi said “someone at Societe Generale should prepare to have a pen and chequebook” ready to pay back the money.
However, SocGen lawyer Jean Veil said the bank had “no worries” it could lose the right to the tax break.
“There would have to be a deliberate error, an excessive error (by the bank) and that is not what is in the ruling,” he said.
A statement from the bank later said the ruling would have no impact on its tax situation.
The trader has never denied building up trading positions amounting to 50 billion euros, but contends his managers should have been aware of his actions, something the bank has always denied.
Either side could send Friday’s ruling to a higher court, which would not judge on the facts but would decide whether the appeal court’s decision conforms to the law.
Separately, in June, a French labor court ordered SocGen to pay Kerviel 455,000 euros for wrongful dismissal, arguing the bank took too long to fire him after it knew of his misconduct. SocGen has said it will appeal against that ruling.
Friday’s ruling “gives me the energy to keep fighting and bring the indemnity down to zero,” Kerviel told reporters. “I believe I owe Societe Generale nothing.”
Banks are struggling to keep their investors happy against a backdrop of increasing pressure on profitability from low interest rates, a weak economic outlook, and tighter regulation and compliance procedures.
Some SocGen shareholders have expressed exasperation that on top of these troubles, the Kerviel affair is still dragging on, but the money at stake could mean it will continue to do so for some time yet.
“A payment of 2.2 billion euros is in our view a loss of value of 2.2 billion euros for shareholders; there is no nicer way to present it,” an analyst based on London said in an email to clients on Thursday.
SocGen, whose shares ended down 1.5 percent at 31.89 euros on Friday in line with a weaker European banking sector, has a market value of about 26 billion euros.
Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Jean-Baptiste-Vey; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Callus, Greg Mahlich