January 24, 2008 / 6:06 PM / 11 years ago

SocGen chairman clubbed by fraud scandal

PARIS (Reuters) - Societe Generale (SocGen) chairman Daniel Bouton must be pining for the calm of his beloved golf course.

The 57-year old bespectacled banker must have felt like he was in the rough on Thursday when faced with a pack of journalists eager to learn how a venerable French bank could go so off course and fall victim to an alleged $7 billion (3.7 billion pound) fraud.

“I would like to present my excuses,” said Bouton, a nervous shadow of his normally assured self.

SocGen said it had uncovered an alleged 4.9 billion euro (3.7 billion pound) fraud by one of its traders. The situation was so grave that Bouton tendered his resignation.

Although the SocGen board rejected his offer to quit, the affair is likely cast a long shadow over Bouton’s future at the bank, analysts said.

SocGen sources, who declined to be named, identified the trader as Jerome Kerviel. The company had earlier described him as a junior trader in his thirties who joined the bank in 2002.

Jean-Pierre Mustier, head of SocGen’s investment banking unit, also tendered his resignation, which was refused.

Bouton, born in Paris in 1950, is married with two children.

Like many of France’s top businessmen and politicians, he attended the prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Administration.

On graduation, he became a government auditor and was on the fast track of France’s civil service during the 1970s.

A decade later, he was mixing with future conservative prime minister Alain Juppe and Philippe Jaffre, head of oil group Elf Aquitaine.

When Juppe became France’s budget minister in 1986, Bouton was his chief of staff. When promoted to budget director, he oversaw privatisation of national tobacco monopoly Seita.

Although he advocated a free market, Bouton retained the position when the Socialists resumed power in 1988.

BNP PARIBAS CHALLENGE

Predictably, Bouton found it difficult to work for this Socialist government, joining SocGen that year as an executive.

He scaled the ranks to become chairman and chief executive but faced a challenge in 1999 from rival Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP).

In 1999, SocGen planned to buy French bank Paribas but the deal would have weakened BNP so BNP launched a hostile bid for both banks.

It acquired Paribas to form BNP Paribas, but failed to snap up SocGen.

But, since then, traders have speculated that SocGen might fall prey to a takeover approach from BNP Paribas, which has a 60-billion-euro market capitalisation about 1.7 times the market value of SocGen.

When asked in 1999 if he would like to stay with SocGen if BNP Paribas managed to buy it out, Bouton replied: “I would rather be a gardener.”

Whether or not he is green-fingered, he certainly enjoys the green with golf his main sporting hobby, even if SocGen has been a long-time French sponsor of rugby.

Given Thursday’s turmoil, Bouton may now feel as if he has been trampled on by one of his own players.

Editing by Suzy Valentine

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