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France

French 5-billion-euro 'rogue trader' freed from prison after serving four months

A French court has ordered "rogue trader" Jerome Kerviel to be freed from prison on probation, four months into his three-year sentence. The ex-trader lost one of Europe's biggest banks almost 5 billion euros.

French ex-investor Jerome Kerival, who lost French bank Société Genérale 4.9 billion euros through a chain of risky bets, will be released on probation next Monday, just four months into his three year sentence.

The Paris appeals court ruled on Thursday that Kerviel, who was convicted in 2010 of breach of trust, forgery and entering false data in relation to the unauthorized trades, could be released from France's Fleury-Merogis Prison, south of Paris, on the condition that he wears an electronic bracelet.

As a result of enormous trades on products and gambling on the direction of the market, 37-year-old Kerviel brought Société Genérale to its knees in 2008, on the eve of the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s. At one point Kerviel wagered as much as 50 billion euros ($66 billion) of the bank's money.

In early remarks, Kerviel, 33, told the court that he was "encouraged" by his bosses to take risks because he was earning good returns for the bank. "The encouragement from my superiors encouraged me to continue," he said.

During investigations, Kervial described himself as an ordinary person. "I didn't earn millions and I didn't drive a Porsche," said Kerviel, who was on a 50,000 euros a year salary plus tens of thousands more in bonuses when the scandal erupted over six years ago.

'Normal life'

In May, Kerviel was sentenced to three years imprisonment and a 4.9 billion-euro fine to pay back the bank. The latter was later overturned by an appeals court.

Despite spending just under 150 days behind bars, Kerviel was able to apply for his early conditional release as French law also takes into account the period he spent in provisional custody.

"He will leave Fleury Merogis on Monday and he will resume a completely normal life," said Kerviel's his lawyer David Koubbi following the appeals court ruling.

According to the conditions of his release, Kerviel will have to remain at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weeknights, with an alarm being sent to police if the conditions are breached.

Kerviel following his two month protest march

Anti-hero

Kerviel, who never actually denied his huge bets, became somewhat of an anti-hero in France during his court case, winning the support of prominent left-wingers, as well as leading figures in the Roman Catholic Church. They believed the former junior investor was unfairly portrayed as a scapegoat for the wider failings of the banking system, which were later highlighted in a 2008 report by internal auditors, which described Kerviel's supervisors as "negligent in the supervision of his activities."

'Ashamed'

Earlier this year, Kerviel said he now felt "ashamed to have been part of this system," adding, "I was a jerk at the time and I am going to spend the rest of my life testifying to that."

Last January whilst awaiting the outcome of his appeals, he was helped by a prominent French bishop, Monsignor Jean-Michel di Falco Léandri and went to Rome for a public audience with Pope Francis.

Inspired by the encounter, and the Pope's attack last year on capitalism's "idolatry of money," Kerviel decided to walk the 1,400 kilometers home, promoting the Pope's message of a flawed financial system.

ksb/sb (dpa, AP, AFP)

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