Rogue trader walks to France as prison deadline looms

18th May 2014, Comments 0 comments

Rogue trader Jerome Kerviel, who has spent two months walking from Rome to protest "the tyranny of the markets", resumed his trek to France where he is due to start a three-year prison term on Sunday.

"I am walking and I am going back to France," Kerviel said after leaving his hotel in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia dressed in hiker's clothing and a backpack.

The 37-year-old, who brought one of Europe's biggest banks, France's Societe Generale, to the brink of bankruptcy in 2008, casts himself as a simple soul caught up in an orgy of greed.

He has spent the last two nights in Ventimiglia, 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 has 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.

"The fight will go on no matter what happens," Kerviel told journalists, before stopping at a church and a pizzeria surrounded by dozens of supporters of the fresh-faced 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."

- 'Serious failings' -

The former trader says he is not seeking a pardon, but has asked Hollande to grant immunity to potential witnesses who could testify in his favour.

Kerviel said he wanted to detail to Hollande "the serious failings" that led to his conviction, following the loss of 4.9 billion euros ($6.7 billion) through wildly risky trades.

Contacted by AFP, Hollande's office said no meeting was on the agenda and stressed that the president would "respect the decisions taken by French courts".

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

The Paris prosecutor's office warned in a statement that if Kerviel did not show up to start serving his sentence by midnight Sunday "he will be considered a fugitive" and a Europe-wide warrant would be issued for his arrest.

- Cause celebre -

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."

Kerviel has never denied taking on wild bets -- at one point staking 50 billion euros ($69 billion) of the bank's money -- but maintains that his bosses were just as much at fault as he was.

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 elite schools.


© 2014 AFP

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