- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

PARIS (AP) American billionaire George Soros went on trial yesterday with two others for their roles in a 14-year-old insider-trading case, one of the highest-profile financial scandals in France.

Mr. Soros, president of the New York-based Soros Fund Management, appeared at the Paris criminal court for the opening of the trial in which he and other businessmen are accused of buying stock in French bank Societe Generale before a takeover bid that briefly pushed up the price. The takeover effort failed.

The Hungarian-born Mr. Soros is one of four defendants left of 11 persons who were placed under formal investigation. The others had charges against them dismissed by a French judge. Two other businessmen implicated in the scandal Edward Safra and Robert Maxwell have died.

The remaining defendants are Lebanese businessman Samir Traboulsi and Jean-Charles Naouri, who is the former head of the office of ex-Finance Minister Pierre Beregovoy.

Mr. Soros and Mr. Naouri face charges of insider trading, while Mr. Traboulsi faces a lesser charge.

A charge of insider trading can bring a maximum of two years in prison and a $1.5 million fine, though such a heavy sentence is unlikely.

According to court documents, Mr. Soros is accused of profiting by $2.2 million, Mr. Traboulsi by $3.5 million and Mr. Naouri by $289,200.

Former French banker Jean-Pierre Peyraud also was scheduled to stand trial, but the court ruled the 88-year-old defendant must undergo a medical analysis because of problems with his memory and cardiovascular system. His case will be heard in January.

The defendants are suspected of having benefited from privileged information during an operation to try to buy up part of the capital of Societe Generale, which was privatized in 1987.

The bank's stock price rose during an unsuccessful takeover bid in 1988. The defendants are accused of getting inside information before the abortive corporate raid pushed up the stock price.

All have denied the accusations. Mr. Soros said he hoped the trial would "show that I am not involved, that I got inadvertently involved in this situation."

"I have learned a lot today about the Societe Generale that I never knew before, and I am sure that I will be exonerated," he said after the hearing.

As the trial began, defense attorneys said the case should be thrown out because it took so long to bring to court.

Prosecutor Marie-Christine Daubigney argued the French justice system was not to blame. She said the case was held up by authorities in Switzerland who took years to respond to information requests. The court decided not to throw out the case.

Born in Hungary in 1930, Mr. Soros emigrated to the United States in 1956 and became a citizen five years later. In 1973, he established Soros Fund Management. He has spent recent years engaged in philanthropy.

The trial is expected to last until a final hearing Nov. 20, and the verdict is likely to come later.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide