Soc Gen trader on trial for high speed algorithm theft

The trial of a former Societe Generale trader, who stands accused of stealing the bank’s secret algorithms, has begun in New York.

Samarth Agrawal was arrested and charged in April, around the time he was set to start a job with Societe Generale competitor Tower Research Capital. He has been held in custody since then. If found guilty, the maximum possible sentence is 10 years in prison.

Agrawal, a 27-year old man who worked for two years at Soc Gen’s Manhattan offices, is accused of copying thousands of lines of algorithmic code into word processing documents and printing them off to take elsewhere. He denies the charges.

The code, developed and owned by Soc Gen, was vital for the bank’s high-speed trading and was protected in the same way Coca Cola might defend its list of ingredients and KFC “guards its recipe for chicken”, according to prosecutor Thomas Brown.

Agrawal “didn't steal cash or gold or diamonds,” Brown said in opening statements, according to a report by Bloomberg. “He stole something much more valuable. He stole a powerful way to make millions of dollars on the stock market.”

Brown plans to show the jury video footage of Agrawal apparently printing large amounts of data, as well as audio recordings of conversations between Agrawal and Tower Research Capital, according to the report. He will also call witnesses including a federal agent who said he found over 500 pages of the code andc related notes in Agrawal’s apartment.

Agrawal maintains his innocence, and in the defence’s opening statements, lawyers said he was legitimately working on the code at home. Societe Generale bosses had authorised him to do this as part of his job, the defence said.

Later this month, a similar code theft trial will take place in the same court, when a former Goldman Sachs programmer will appear on charges he stole algorithms to take to his new employer.

The issues at Societe Generale follow an unrelated trial, in which rogue trader Jerome Kerviel, a former employee, was last month convicted of unauthorised computer use, forgery and breach of trust. He was handed a three-year prison sentence and an unprecedented €4.9 billion (£4.3 billion) fine.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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