French rogue trader Jerome Kerviel begins serving prison sentence

Jerome Kerviel surrenders at last minute to serve three-year sentence for role in bringing Societe Generale to the brink of bankruptcy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 9:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 3:43am


Six years after his first arrest, French rogue trader Jerome Kerviel was yesterday beginning a three-year prison term for his role in the near collapse of Societe Generale

After a weekend of high drama in which he had threatened to stay in Italy in a bid to get President Francois Hollande to intervene in his case, Kerviel, 37, surrendered to French police at midnight after crossing the border at the Riviera town of Menton.

After an overnight stay in a police station there, he was transferred yesterday to a prison in the nearby city of Nice.

The ex-trader had brought one of Europe's biggest banks to the brink of bankruptcy in 2008 with wildly risky trades that resulted in a loss of €4.9 billion (HK$52.1 billion).

Kerviel was convicted in 2010 of breach of trust, forgery and entering false data in relation to the unauthorised trades. His conviction and three-year prison term were upheld in March, but an appeal court overturned an order that he pay damages equivalent to the bank's losses.

The prosecutor in Nice, Eric Bedos, said Kerviel "is being detained in the prison at Nice until further notice".

Kerviel has become something of a cause célèbre 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.

Kerviel has become fond of portraying himself as a simple soul caught up in an orgy of greed who has now recognised the error of his ways.

For weeks, the former trader had been marching to Paris from Rome, where he met the pope earlier this year, in protest "against the tyranny of financial markets". "Everyone is fed up with this system," he said at the weekend. "I am here to denounce the system and I have a lot of people who want to join me in that.

"I'm ashamed to have been a part of this system. I was a jerk at the time, and I am going to spend the rest of my life testifying to that."

Kerviel had been ordered to present himself at a French police station by Sunday at the latest. He finally complied with the order, having said at the weekend he would stay in Italy until he got a response to his request for President Francois Hollande to intervene in the case.

Kerviel said he would not seek a presidential pardon but had asked Hollande to grant immunity to potential witnesses who could testify in his favour. He said he wanted to detail to Hollande "the serious failings" that led to his conviction.

He reversed his decision to stay in Italy after French authorities made it clear they would seek his detention via a European arrest warrant if he did not comply with the order to return to his homeland.

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

The trader was earning a relatively modest €50,000 a year in basic salary when the scandal erupted in January 2008.

Additional reporting by Reuters