Two former Directors of Crédit Agricole Provence-Côte d’Azur indicted

The bank would have made loans exceeding the allowed rate and installed software to overcharge the agios.

Hitherto unknown to the general public, the case has aroused for several weeks the concern of the banking community. Thursday, April 14, the investigating judge of the court of Grasse (Alpes-Maritimes), Séverine Lasch, indicted for “wear” Roger Cacellé, general manager of Crédit Agricole Provence-Côte d’Azur from 1987 to 1997, and his successor, remained in office until 2001, François Valéry.

Since 23 December 2004, Crédit Agricole, as a legal person, has been assisted in this procedure. The first bank in the region, Crédit Agricole Provence-Côte d’Azur regional fund has 750,000 customers.

Reprimed by Article L 313 of the Consumer Code, usury is a practice of granting credit at a rate higher than the authorized rate, the global percentage rate (TEG), fixed each quarter by the Bank of France and the -of which it is forbidden to lend.

In the case heard in Grasse, Credit Agricole is suspected to have knowingly exceeded this threshold, plunging one of its customers in the over-indebtedness. But the bank is especially suspected of having set up, in the 1990s, software called “Tarpro”, to artificially increase the premium billed to customers.

The case began in October 1999, when Gérard Vendrasco, a trader domiciled in Vallauris, decides, with his lawyer, Philippe Samak, to file a complaint against the bank for “wear, forgery, and use”. Mr. Vendrasco, who had been heavily indebted ten years earlier by buying a bar in Antibes, believes that Credit Agricole has granted him borrowing oversized compared to his means.

The investigation will then go into a deep lethargy: several judges of instruction follow one another, while the floor shows inertia. It accelerated at the end of 2001, with the appointment of a Monegasque expert, Pierre-Edouard Colombani. The latter, after long investigations, will make two reports with overwhelming conclusions for the bank.

“USURPER TEG”

On February 25, 2003, he writes: “The TEG mentioned in the various credits granted by the Crédit Agricole regional fund to Mr. Vendrasco are all wrong.” “None of them have been calculated in accordance with the texts in force, notes Mr. Colombani. For the agios overdrafts, interest was partly calculated on the basis of 360 days instead of 365 days. Interest expense has been abnormally increased from two to five days in debit transactions, unbeknownst to the borrower. ”

On June 30, 2004, the expert goes even further, denouncing, beyond the case of Mr. Vendrasco, “the installation of a computer system for billing interest with increases in the number of debtor days, not technically justified and especially not communicated to customers, which has generated undue interest and increased the number of significantly usurious TEGs ” . “These programmed systems have been systematic and have lasted for many years,” concludes the expert.

In a summary report of 5 July 2004, the Financial Brigade of the Judicial Police (PJ) of Nice takes over the conclusions of the expert. “It has become obvious,” explains the PJ, “as far as agios on current accounts are concerned, that Crédit Agricole (…) has practiced TEGs which have proved almost usurious.” “This finding,” says the financial brigade, must obviously be understood for all customers of this bank for the period considered (1992-1999) since it results from centralized computer programs. According to the police, the practices of Credit Agricole “were likely to deceive and hurt the customers by causing billing differences of agios in a number of days that appeared unjustified”.

During their interrogation of the first appearance, on April 14, MM. Cacellé and Valéry assured that they did not remember exactly how the Beatsbyheadphonesale loans and accounts of the clients were operating when they ran the Crédit Agricole regional bank. “I do not know the software Tarpro,” said Mr. Valery. Concerning the expert’s conclusions evoking a specialization in the calculation of TEG, Mr. Cacellé replied, “I ‘m learning this information today.”

Alex Benvenuto, who is in charge of communication at the Crédit Agricole Regional Bank, completely refutes the bank’s suspicions. “Everything is based on a biased and error-prone expertise, ” says Benvenuto, who announces that Credit Agricole “will attack” Pierre-Edouard Colombani. “There is no hidden system to overcharge our customers,” adds Benvenuto. “This is a classic case of instrumentalization of justice and the media,” he concludes.