The alleged 'rogue trader' blamed by French bank Societe Generale for billions in losses has gone on trial in Paris. Jerome Kerviel is accused of forgery, breach of trust and unauthorized computer use. The former trader has always maintained the bank knew about the risky deals. In a book published last month, Kerviel claimed that his superiors turned a blind eye to his trading while he was earning money for the bank, but intervened when he began to lose. Anita Elash reports.
MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Before the fall of Lehman Brothers, before Bernard Madoff's multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme, there was financial trader Jerome Kerviel. Kerviel made some risky bets when he worked for France's second largest bank, Societe Generale. The bank lost billions of dollars as a result and all has not been forgiven. Today Kerviel went on trial in Paris. He's accused of forgery, breach of trust and fraudulent use of the bank's computer. Kerviel denies the charges. Anita Elash reports from Paris.
ANITA ELASH: The Jerome Kerviel story broke just as the global banking system was breaking. Within days, Kerviel had a fan club. There were t-shirts with his picture on them and internet videos paying tribute to him. Most of the tributes were tongue-in-cheek. This woman lauded Kerviel as "our patron saint" despite his humble beginnings as a child in the provinces and a so-so business school student. Kerviel touched a chord with the French because he proved their suspicions that something was terribly wrong with the banking system.
STEPHANE BONIFASSI: He was some sort of canary in the mine.
ELASH: Lawyer Stephane Bonifassi.
BONIFASSI: Suddenly, some simple guy in his early thirties could have a bank lose five billion dollars. He was one of the first signals to say there's something wrong in the financial world and this is going crazy.
ELASH: The French government has since taken the lead in pushing for tighter regulation of international financial markets. And Kerviel has played on fears about how the markets work to defend himself. He published his memoirs last month. Kerviel compared working as a futures trader to prostitution. And he said the system was like a great banking orgy. Kerviel said on French radio that his superiors knew all along that he was making prohibited transactions.
INTERPRETER: They never once asked me how I managed to earn such an incredible amount of money. My managers were paid based on how much the traders earned, so everyone was willing to turn a blind eye.
ELASH: Kerviel has been a hit in the French newspapers. Some journalists portray him as just a nice guy who got caught up in an evil banking system. Others paint him as a financial terrorist. Kerviel could barely make his way through a crowd of reporters when he arrived at the courthouse today. His lawyer, Olivier Metzner said his client is innocent and that he would prove it during the trial.
INTERPRETER: He's expecting the truth to come out, the truth about what happened exactly in the trading room and we will prove it during the hearing.
ELASH: Kerviel may be a folk hero at the moment, but he will probably be remembered, if at all, as Mr. Nobody. He never took a cent from his trades; he just lost the bank almost six billion dollars. For The World, I'm Anita Elash in Paris.