French find new hero in rogue trader who nearly broke the bank
PARIS, January 29, 2008 - Many in France, where suspicion ofglobalisation and financial markets runs deep, have found a new hero in ayoung man who subverted the system and allegedly lost his bank five billioneuros. For Societe Generale bank, trader Jerome Kerviel is a "crook, fraudster andterrorist" but for many here Kerviel is a scapegoat whose action has exposedwhat they see as the outrageous greed of global finance. "He is the product of a system that pushes people into taking huge risks inthe pursuit of huge profits," said 29-year-old office worker Marie Fournier. "All he did was get carried away by that system and take it to extremes. Hemay well have done us all a service by reminding us what goes on," she said asshe took a walk in central Paris during her lunchbreak. A straw poll taken Monday on the streets of Paris revealed many similaropinions, but as many people who saw 31-year-old Kerviel's activities assimply criminal. Kerviel was taken before a Paris investigating judge Monday who was poisedto charge him over the 4.9-billion-euro (7.15-billion-dollar) loss, whichnearly wiped out the bank's 2007 profit and left it a potential takeovertarget. The junior dealer, the son of a hairdresser, wanted to be an "exceptionaltrader" and earn a bigger bonus but did not try to profit personally from theunauthorised financial deals, according to a French prosecutor. The scandal, which broke last week during one of the most turbulent periodsfor years in global stock markets, is "the symbol of mad money," said theopposition Socialist party's economy spokesman Michel Sapin. Its eruption in the midst of the biggest plunge in share prices since theterror attacks of September 11, 2001, and against the wider background of theUS subprime housing crisis, has fuelled French wariness of capitalism. The French Communist Party went as far as comparing Kerviel to AlfredDreyfus, the Jewish army captain whose dismissal more than a century ago ontrumped-up charges of spying triggered a protracted national crisis. Dominique Moisi of the French Institute of International Relations saidKerviel has become a hero for some because of "the feeling (in France) thatthe very rich are always getting their way and that relatively modest agentsare used as scapegoats." "But of course this is something you could expect in a country where partof the left and a large section of the population is still anti-globalisationand anti-capitalism," he told AFP. Globalisation for many French, whose country is the sixth richest in theworld due partly to international trade, is all about French factories closingand moving to China. Opinion polls regularly show that a large section of the French populationsee the free market as a threat. Even the political right is wary of what is widely seen here as brutal"Anglo-Saxon" capitalism. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after the Societe Generale scandalbroke that the financial system had "lost sight of its purpose." He denouncedoperations which can produce "gigantic profits" as well as "gigantic losses"in a few hours. Kerviel, a seemingly unremarkable young man who has now entered the annalsof financial history, has also become a cyberspace star, with a burgeoningcult on the Facebook social networking site and numerous websites dedicated tohim. The "Jerome Kerviel FanClub" group on Facebook had 1,060 members on Monday,while the most popular Facebook site has recruited more than 1,500 members. All the sites have been flooded with messages, mostly jokey or praising thetrader. "This bloke is my idol! Run, Jerome, run!" said one message.