/ 26 February 2008

Sarkozy hits out at Société Générale chief

French President Nicolas Sarkozy sharply criticised the chairperson of scandal-hit bank Société Générale in an interview published on Tuesday, saying his response to billion-euro losses was “not normal”.

“When the president of a company sees losses of that magnitude and does not draw conclusions from it, that’s not normal,” Sarkozy said of chairperson Daniel Bouton in an interview with a panel of readers of Le Parisien newspaper.

“I have nothing against Daniel Bouton, but you cannot say, ‘I’m going to be paid seven-million per year’, and when there is a problem, say: ‘It’s not me’.”

Sarkozy added: “I cannot accept that.”

Bouton vowed in an interview published on Monday to stay on as head of the French bank, saying his resignation offer was “no longer on the table”.

“I offered my resignation on two occasions,” he told the financial newspaper, Les Echos.

“The board refused it two times … My resignation is no longer on the table. I’m staying, I’m steering, I’m driving. There should be no doubt about that.”

Sarkozy was asked about Bouton’s responsibility on January 28, a week after the board of Société Générale refused his offer of resignation for the second time.

He replied: “I don’t like to carry personal judgement on people … but we are in a system where, when someone has a high remuneration, no doubt legitimate, when you have a big problem, you cannot shirk your responsibilities.”

Bouton and Société Générale are grappling with a massive €4,9-billion loss, revealed in mid-January, that they have attributed to unauthorised deals by a rogue trader.

The trader alleged to have carried out unauthorised trading, 31-year-old Jerome Kerviel, is under investigation on charges of breach of trust, fabricating documents and illegally accessing computers in connection with the scandal.

A special committee appointed by Société Générale itself has exposed failures in the bank’s internal controls. — AFP