http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/jan/29/europeanbanks.banking SocGen in disarray as judges throw out fraud charge against trader Â· Bank admits it was warned on more than one occasion Â· Shareholders go to court over alleged insider dealing David Gow and Emilie Boyer King in Paris The Guardian, Tuesday January 29 2008 The SociÃ©tÃ© GÃ©nÃ©rale affair descended deeper into the mire last night as investigating judges threw out the most serious accusation, attempted fraud, put forward by prosecutors against the trader behind the â¬4.9bn losses, JÃ©rÃ´me Kerviel. They released him under judicial supervision, or bail, after two days of police questioning, leading his lawyers to claim a substantial victory. The surprise threatened to undermine the bank's increasingly fragile defence that he had used ingeniously fraudulent devices, including hacking into colleagues' internet codes, to hide his gambling on equity derivatives trading markets. Kerviel ran up an exposure of â¬50bn, costing France's second-largest bank a record loss in banking history as it unwound his positions last week. The prosecutor's office, which wanted to charge him with fraud, said it would appeal against the release. He has been placed under formal investigation for lesser allegations of breach of trust, computer abuse, and falsification. "There is no fraud," said Christian Charriere-Bournazel, one of Kerviel's two lawyers, accusing Daniel Bouton, SocGen's chief executive, of "throwing him to the dogs" and "holding him up for public vilification." Earlier, a lawyer acting for 100 small shareholders sued the bank over insider trading and market manipulation, and minority investors accused it of issuing misleading information. And Kerviel, depicted by the bank as a "lone" rogue trader, also increased SocGen's woes by accusing his colleagues of having similarly traded beyond their limits. Prosecutors said the bank had been alerted by the Eurex derivatives market to the scale of his positions as long ago as November last year. Prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin said Kerviel had been able to fool his employer by producing a fake document to justify the risk cover - a comment seized upon by SocGen as it struggled to defend itself against charges its controls were so extraordinarily lax that Kerviel acted unapprehended for 15 months. Eurex said its controls "functioned correctly at all levels, also in this case", while Socgen admitted it had been warned by the Deutsche Boerse subsidiary more than once. "There were false trades picked up but he [Kerviel] explained them away, justified them, or fabricated covers." An enraged Colette Neuville, head of Adam, a minority shareholders' lobby, disclosed she had asked the AMF, the French financial services authority, for a formal inquiry into alleged insider trading by a director and/or others at the bank. She also wants the AMF to investigate whether the bank deliberately misled investors over its sub-prime losses in November when it put them at â¬230m, only to announce a â¬2.05bn hit two months later. She told the Guardian. "There are strong possibilities that the information given to shareholders was incorrect - misleading." The lawyer, Frederik-Karel Canoy, said he had begun legal action against SocGen over how it unwound billions of euros in allegedly fraudulent share deals last week. The bank said on Sunday it unwound Kerviel's positions, â¬50bn, "in particularly unfavourable market conditions" between Monday and Wednesday last week after discovering them on January 18. Canoy, a thorn in the flesh of French companies, told Reuters the bank should have told markets about its pending losses before its huge three-day selling spree. SocGen says it unwound these positions in a controlled manner and within a volume limited to less than 10% to "respect the integrity of markets". It won support from Bank of France governor Christian Noyer: "The way SociÃ©tÃ© GÃ©nÃ©rale has handled its affairs to unwind positions in a very short space of time, and without moving the markets, contrary to what has been said, because they remained within normal trading limits ... was very professional." Canoy also filed a complaint about the sale of 1m shares by SocGen director Robert Day on January 9 and 10, disclosed in AMF filings, shares worth â¬85.7m in his own name, and â¬8.63m and â¬959,066 from two foundations "linked" to him. The bank said the sale had come "well before" it knew of any fraud, while sources, dismissing Canoy's move as a stunt, insisted that only a few senior officials, excluding Day, could have known of pending losses when he sold his shares. But Neuville, in a letter to the AMF, insisted that share sales had taken place just before Socgen shares started to slide on January 14 - or four days before Kerviel's fictitious and fraudulent dealings were first detected inside the bank on January 18. "There are people who had access to information that was not publicly known; there's a suspicion of insider trading, and there must be a formal inquiry." Kerviel has admitted hiding his activities but accused colleagues of trading beyond their limits, Marin said earlier. Prosecutors had sought charges against Kerviel for offences of forgery and fraud, with a sentence of up to seven years. Marin said the 31-year-old, who gave himself up on Saturday, had told investigators that his and other irregular deals had taken place since the end of 2005, a dagger at the heart of Socgen's defence that he was a one-off fraudster of genius. Marin said the investigation had shown Kerviel did indeed act alone - to prove himself a star trader and earn a bonus of â¬300,000, rather than to harm the bank. The bank has so far dismissed two managers over the scandal: Luc FranÃ§ois, head of equity derivatives trading, and Jean-Pierre Lessage, Kerviel's direct manager.