The Sideshow

The most indebted man in the world owes former employer $6.3 billion

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

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Jerome Kerviel, the most indebted man in the world (Euronews)

Former financial arbitrage trader Jerome Kerviel is the most indebted man on the planet, owing his former employer $6.3 billion.

The amount Kerviel owes to French bank Societe Generale for fraudulent trades made in 2007 and 2008 would make Kerviel one of the 50 richest people in America if those debts were assets.

But Kerviel cannot even begin paying off his debts until 2015, when he is scheduled to be released from prison. Kerviel recently lost an appeal case in which he argued the corruption at Societe Generale was widespread.

The Atlantic's Matthew O'Brien writes that Kerviel managed  €50 billion ($73 billion in unadjusted dollars) worth of unauthorized trades during his tenure at Societe Generale, using a sophisticated scheme of computer hacking and deceptive trades to deceive the bank.

O'Brien writes:

"In plain English, arbitrage just means taking advantage of discrepancies when things should have the same price, but don't. The idea is to buy the cheaper one, sell the more expensive one, and then wait for them to converge. The beauty is it doesn't matter whether markets go up or down--you're both long and short--just that the prices actually converge."

O'Brien spoke with former investment banker and current University of San Diego law professor Frank Partnoy about the logistics of trying to collect $6.3 billion from a single individual.

"Well, he's obviously not going to be able to pay the fine," Partnoy told the Atlantic. "What happened to Kerviel is the financial equivalent of sentencing someone to life plus 100 years. They'll likely reach some kind of agreement where a significant percentage of any money he makes for the rest of his life will be paid into a fund to cover the fine. He'll be like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill every day for the rest of his life."

And while you could debate whether there are better ways for Kerviel to pay back Societe Generale, Partnoy offers a stark comparison to the fines levied against some of the world's largest financial institutions. In 2010, Goldman Sachs agreed to a $550 million settlement with Securities Exchange Commission, paid in part to investors and the U.S. government, which the SEC described as the largest settlement in history against any Wall Street firm.

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