Investigators now think futures trader had help

Investigators at Societe Generale said Friday they suspect a former futures trader had help as he tried to cover up unauthorized positions that led to billions in losses at the French bank.

In two long-awaited reports, the investigators said the French bank's management failures and culture of risk-taking were partly to blame for failing to uncover the alleged fraud, which led to a loss of almost 5 billion euros (over $7 billion).

“The trader's hierarchy, constituting the first level of control, proved deficient in the supervision of his activities,” said the board of directors in a statement to shareholders.

It also said former trader Jerome Kerviel's direct superior “lacked trading experience” and showed “an inappropriate degree of tolerance” for Kerviel's trading activity.

The findings came in two separate internal reports – one led by a committee of independent directors headed by former auto executive Jean-Martin Folz, the other by audit firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

The report from the directors said they had “discovered indications of internal collusion involving a trading assistant,” whom they declined to identify. They said they were unable to speak to the person because of an ongoing judicial probe, adding that it will be up to the court to confirm its suspicions.

However, they said they had uncovered an e-mail that suggested the assistant must have known about the fake trades.

The assistant's complicity would have helped Kerviel avoid detection, the report said.

Previously, Societe Generale had said it believed Kerviel acted alone.

The internal report said it found that “neither JK's hierarchical superiors, nor his colleagues, were aware of the fraudulent mechanisms used or the size of his positions.”

Kerviel says his superiors must have known what he was doing, but that they chose to look the other way when he was making money for the bank.

Investigators didn't find any signs of embezzlement by Kerviel, but said it appeared that he had sought to boost his results, and thus increase his bonuses.

The internal report said supervision of Kerviel was weak and management failed to react to a series of red flags.

The report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers cited a culture of risk-taking at the bank as it grew its investment banking business. Trading limits were often surpassed, the report said.

Control systems were missing and procedures were lacking, that report said.

SocGen's board said in a statement it approved the conclusions of the report and its recommendations.

Societe Generale SA has said it is tightening computer security, reinforcing controls and taking more account of the possibility of fraud since the affair was uncovered.