Top French appeal court to rule on ex-trader Kerviel

PARIS, March 19 Tue Mar 18, 2014 7:01pm EDT

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PARIS, March 19 (Reuters) - France's highest court of appeal is set on Wednesday to deliver what may be the final word on the fate of former Societe Generale trader Jerome Kerviel, who has spent more than three years fighting a jail sentence over massive market bets that almost brought the bank to the brink of collapse in 2008.

Kerviel, 37, turned to the Court of Cassation in 2012 after losing his initial appeal against a three-year jail sentence and a fine of 4.9 billion euros ($6.8 billion), designed to compensate SocGen for its losses when it unwound the trader's mammoth positions in the midst of the financial crisis.

The trader has never denied masking his 50 billion euro positions but accused his bosses of knowing what he was doing. The courts, however, twice backed SocGen's insistence Kerviel acted alone.

Kerviel and his lawyer David Koubbi have since February used social-media websites such as Facebook and traditional press outlets to paint the looming verdict as one individual's struggle against high finance, with Kerviel even meeting the Pope and embarking on a march on foot from Rome to Paris.

But the Court of Cassation will rule only on whether procedures were properly followed in the trial and appeal, rather than on the merits of the case.

"It's impossible to predict for certain but the broad expectation is that the conviction will not be overturned, that it will be upheld," said Hubert de Vauplane, a partner at law firm Kramer Levin. "It is not clear on what basis the appeals decision would be rejected."

If the conviction is upheld, Kerviel will have the option of filing a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, Vauplane said. However, this would not automatically be enough to suspend the jail sentence, he said.

The former trader has yet to make it across the Italian-French border and is not expected to have reached Paris by the time the court reaches its decision. A Facebook page charting Kerviel's walk said on Monday he had yet to reach Bologna.

During Kerviel's retrial in 2012, Koubbi said his client had been a victim of a conspiracy of "powerful" French elites.

But with little in the way of new "smoking-gun" evidence from the defence team, the appeals court sided with SocGen and laid the blame exclusively at Kerviel's feet.

"Jerome Kerviel was the sole creator, inventor and user of a fraudulent system that caused these damages to Societe Generale," the court said in its ruling. ($1 = 0.7188 Euros) (Editing by Keiron Henderson)

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