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The Prince of Trades

Despite Jerome Kerviel's losses being apparently unintentional, and the fact that he did not redistribute the $5.85bn he caused his bank to lose to the poor, the "rogue trader" is seen by many in France as a Robin Hood figure.

Last modified: 8 Jun 2010 20:11
Photo by AFP

Since his meteoric rise to global notoriety in 2008 after nearly bankrupting his employer, the French banking giant Societe Generale, Jerome Kerviel has been called many things.

Rogue trader, most often. Financial genius, more rarely. Naïve, ambitious, a scapegoat.

But here's one you might not expect. Robin hood. A modern day anti-hero who steals from the rich to give to the poor.

For many in France, Kerviel is just that. They feel he took on a system which was flawed and unfair, and nearly brought about its collapse.

Never mind that it seems to have been completely unintentional.

Or that Kerviel did not redistribute the $5.85bn he caused Societe Generale to lose to the poor - who live far away from the glass-walled skyscrapers of Paris' financial district.

William Emmanuel wrote a book about Kerviel once news of the monumental debts he'd racked up hit the headlines.

In the biography he retraces Kerviel's humble childhood.

The son of a hairdresser in Brittany, Kerviel did not go to the most prestigious schools in the country, where his fellow traders at Societe Generale had been groomed for success and status from an early age.

No, he was a man with a lot to prove in an environment where he didn't really fit in. To get status he had to succeed, and in a bank you succeed by making money. Lots of money.

Emmanuel says it's not a surprise that the French media and public took to Kerviel.

"In France, people don't like banks, don't like finance, don't like the Anglo Saxon world and its way of doing business, so it's easy for those people to say Jerome Kerviel is Robin Hood, the world was very difficult for him, so he has a kind of excuse for what he did."

Kerviel himself has certainly gone on a media offensive, writing a book about his time on the trading floor.

If the court finds him guilty he faces five years in jail and a hefty fine.

But although this is technically the trial of just one trader, it's the whole French banking sector that may ultimately be found guilty by public opinion.