SocGen Ex-Trader Kerviel Waits at Italy Border for Hollande Word

May 18, 2014 6:37 am ET

May 18 (Bloomberg) -- Jerome Kerviel, the former Societe Generale SA trader facing prison for a record banking loss, was waiting in Italy near the border with France before presenting himself to French police.

Kerviel, who was surrounded by about 300 supporters, had been summoned to visit the police department in the French city of Menton by 3 p.m. local time today to get instructions and details of his three-year jail sentence. The former trader said in an interview that he was awaiting word from President Francois Hollande on granting immunity to people within the French judicial system who want to criticize the manner in which his case was conducted.

“I’ve arrived at a few hundred meters from France,” Kerviel, 37, said yesterday in a Bloomberg Television interview. “I have asked President Francois Hollande to grant that people who want to denounce the judicial system not be penalized for what they’ve got to say. I’m not asking the president for immunity for me.”

Hollande would examine any request for presidential pardon “according to usual procedure,” Agence France-Presse cited his office as saying. Should Kerviel seek a pardon, the request would be considered after investigation and advice from the justice ministry, AFP reported.

The Cour de Cassation, France’s highest appeals court, in March rebuffed Kerviel’s efforts to overturn a 2012 verdict that found him guilty of abusing the bank’s trust, faking documents and entering false data into computers that resulted in a 4.9 billion-euro ($6.7 billion) loss.

Kerviel’s Walk

The court also ruled that the bank’s 2008 unwinding of the former trader’s unauthorized bets of more than 50 billion euros -- exceeding the market value of France’s second-largest lender -- needs renewed scrutiny. The court accepted the former trader’s civil appeal that challenged the Paris-based bank’s claim that he was solely responsible for the lender’s loss from liquidating the positions.

Kerviel undertook a 1,400-kilometer walk from Rome to Paris after a brief meeting with Pope Francis on Feb. 19.In a March interview, Kerviel said his trek from Rome was aimed neither at getting publicity and sympathy nor at keeping himself out of jail.

His walk, he said, was a personal journey aimed at bringing the message of Pope Francis’s November attack on the “tyranny” of financial markets. The pontiff has criticized capitalism for its “idolatry of money.”

In the interview yesterday, Kerviel said he was “ashamed to have been part of this system.”

“I was in the system and I let myself get drawn into the system,” he said.

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 -- became something of a cult hero in the country in the aftermath of the 2008 loss.

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.”