Jerome Kerviel, the former Societe Generale SA trader convicted for fraudulent transactions that resulted in a record loss at the French bank, has hit the road to draw attention to what he calls the tyranny of finance.
Kerviel began walking the 1,400-kilometer, or 875-mile, distance from Rome to Paris on Feb. 24 to protest against the “abuses” of finance, a few days after a brief meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, his lawyer said. The 37-year-old former trader, who was convicted in 2012, risks being jailed if his last appeal is rejected this month.
“He has been deprived of everything for the past six years, but not of this; he’s a free man,” Kerviel’s lawyer, David Koubbi, said. “It’s a walk to meet people, cross nice places and carry the words of the holy father.” The Pope has criticized modern capitalism for its “idolatry of money.”
Societe Generale (GLE)’s 2008 loss, after Kerviel amassed 50 billion euros ($69 billion) in trades on European stock index futures by faking documents and emails to convince superiors that he’d hedged those positions, sent shockwaves through markets. Kerviel was called a “terrorist” by the bank’s then-Chief Executive Officer Daniel Bouton.
A Paris court in 2012 upheld a previous verdict finding Kerviel solely responsible for Societe Generale’s 4.9 billion-euro trading loss. Kerviel was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to repay the bank.
The 2012 verdict found him guilty of abusing the bank’s trust, falsifying documents and entering fake data into computers. During the 2012 appeals trial, Kerviel argued that the bank knew he was exceeding his trading mandate and used him as a scapegoat for losses on subprime mortgages.
The final decision on the case by the Cour de Cassation, France’s highest appeals court, is due on March 19.
Kerviel’s walk “has nothing to do with the Cour de Cassation,” Koubbi said. Given the distance, Kerviel won’t be in Paris for the decision, the lawyer said, adding that “you don’t make 1,000 kilometers in two weeks.”
Kerviel’s trading loss was one of the biggest in banking history, exceeding the $6.6 billion Amaranth Advisors LLC lost in 2006, and is more than four times the $1.4 billion in losses by Nick Leeson that brought down Barings Plc in 1995.
It wiped out almost two years of pretax profit at Societe Generale’s investment-banking unit and cost several of his bosses their jobs.
The story of Kerviel -- a native of Brittany, who rose through the ranks to Societe Generale’s trading floor without having attended any of France’s elite schools -- made him a cult figure in the country.
There was a comic book, fan clubs and t-shirts supporting his cause. A poll taken after news of the loss broke showed 77 percent of French respondents saw him as a “victim.”
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