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Defiant Kerviel demands Hollande meeting

Photo: AFP

Convicted rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel on Sunday demanded an audience with French President François Hollande as he defied a deadline to return to France to begin a three-year prison term.

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Kerviel, 37, said he was appealing to the French leader to intervene in his case. He has spent over three years fighting charges stemming from massive market bets that almost brought French bank Société Générale to the brink of collapse in 2008.

He has been convicted of breach of trust, forgery and fraudulent data manipulation. He embarked on a march on foot from Rome to Paris earlier this year, intended to raise awareness of what he regards as his unfair treatment by the courts.

Ordered to present himself at a French police station by Sunday to start serving his sentence, the former Société Générale trader said he would not be crossing the border until he heard back from Hollande on his case.

"I am staying here for now," Kerviel told reporters outside a hotel in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, where he spent the past two nights. "I am waiting to hear the position of the president of the republic." He said he was not guilty and that his criminal conviction was unfair.

'Fugitive'

The Paris state prosecutor said that Kerviel would be considered a fugitve from justice as of midnight (1000 GMT) and that a European arrest warrant would be issued against him in the coming days.

The warrant would be issued this week and would require Italian authorities to hand him over to France, a judicial source said.

Kerviel says he wishes to detail to Hollande "the serious failings" that led to his conviction, following the loss of nearly five billion euros through wildly risky trades.

He has asked Hollande to grant immunity to potential witnesses who could testify in his favour.

Kerviel's lawyer, David Koubbi, said he would be returning to Paris later in the day in the hope of meeting the president.

Kerviel has never denied masking his 50-billion-euro ($68.52 billion) positions but has accused his bosses of knowing what he was doing. The courts, however, have each time backed SocGen's insistence that the trader acted alone.

Asking for pardon 'out of the question'

France's highest appeal court upheld his three-year jail term in March but it quashed the 4.9-billion-euro civil damages designed to compensate SocGen for its losses when it unwound the trader's mammoth positions in the midst of the financial crisis.

The French president's office said in a statement on Saturday evening that if Kerviel asked for presidential grace, his request would be examined according to usual procedures.

Kerviel rebuffed the offer: "Asking for grace is admitting you're guilty, something I've been fighting for six years. I'm not guilty. And I will never get down on my knees in front of such an unfair ruling," he said.

In an emailed statement on Saturday, a spokesman for Société Générale criticised the media hype around Kerviel, stressing he had been subject to a meticulous investigation, judged three times and found guilty each time.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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