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Rogue trader Kerviel imprisoned on return to France

AFP

Jérôme Kerviel, who spent two months walking from Rome to protest his treatment by the courts, was imprisoned in Nice following his return to France from Italy on Sunday midnight.

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Convicted rogue trader Kerviel is now due to start a three-year prison term.

He was ordered to present himself at a French police station by Sunday midnight 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.

He spent the last two nights in Ventimiglia, Italy, refusing to return to serve his sentence until President Francois Hollande intervened in his case.

But as the clocked ticked down to the midnight deadline at which he had to check into a French police station, he took up his trek again, remaining cagey on whether he planned to show up for the appointment.

“I will present myself to the first police officer I see,” Kerviel said as he neared the border, accompanied by supporters, crowds of reporters and television crews.

“I have not lost, I’ve spent a beautiful day with people close to me, I’m happy, I’m free, I’ll turn myself in to the police and the authorities.”

It was unclear what made him change his mind and head towards the border.

At the Menton border crossing, Kerviel was met by two French police officers in plain clothes who whisked him away by car.

“The fight will go on no matter what happens,” Kerviel had told journalists earlier, before stopping at a church and a pizzeria surrounded by dozens of supporters of the man who has become an unlikely hero to some critics of the banking system.

“I have never been a fugitive, I have always taken responsibility for my actions.” Kerviel had earlier said after leaving his hotel in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, after initially refusing to return to serve his sentence until 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.

The former trader said he wished 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 had 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.

Celebrity status

Kerviel was tramping through Tuscany when France’s top appeals court in March upheld his 2010 conviction for breach of trust, forgery and entering false data in relation to unauthorised deals that nearly brought his former employer down.

The ruling left Kerviel, who served 41 days in pre-trial detention in 2008, liable to be imprisoned at any time within five years of the verdict.

Kerviel’s defence lawyers asked the state prosecution to suspend the application of his sentence.

“There is no urgency in jailing him, other than to silence him,” said the statement.

The ex-trader has become something of a cause celebre in France, winning support from prominent left-wingers and leading figures in the Roman Catholic Church who believe he has been unfairly made a scapegoat for the shortcomings of the entire banking system.

One of his supporters, the priest Patrice Gourrier, who has been walking at his side, has said he would fast until the sentence was suspended.

“I know it is impossible that Jerome acted alone,” said the priest. “I want to draw attention to this economic barbarism which is destroying men and women.”

Even as he racked up billions for the bank, Kerviel lived modestly in a small suburban flat and took the train to Brittany in the holidays to visit his widowed mother.

“I am an ordinary person. I am not crazy,” he said during investigations into the scandal.

“I didn’t earn millions (in salary) and I didn’t drive a Porsche,” said Kerviel, who was earning 50,000 euros ($68,500) a year plus tens of thousands more in bonuses, when the scandal erupted in January 2008.

Some commentators have interpreted his big risk-taking as motivated by the desire of a young man from a modest background to prove himself among the ranks of high-flying traders from France’s infamously elite schools.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

 

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