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Kerviel heads to France on foot as prison deadline looms

AFP

Convicted rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel, who has spent two months walking from Rome to protest his treatment by the courts, resumed his march toward France where he is due to start a three-year prison term on Sunday.

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"I am walking and I am going back to France," Kerviel said after leaving his hotel in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, after earlier refusing to return to serve his sentence until President Francois Hollande intervened in his case.

The 37-year-old 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.

Kerviel has been convicted of breach of trust, forgery and fraudulent data manipulation but has maintained his innocence, claiming his criminal conviction was unfair.

He was ordered to present himself at a French police station by Sunday to start serving his sentence, with the Paris state prosecutor threatening the former Société Générale trader with fugitive status should he fail to appear before midnight (1000 GMT).

Kerviel says he wishes to detail to the French leader "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 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.

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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