(Updates with Kerviel's arrest)
MENTON, France May 18 Convicted rogue trader
Jerome Kerviel was arrested in southern France late on Sunday to
serve a three-year jail sentence in a high-profile case he has
depicted as one individual's struggle against high finance.
Kerviel, 37, has spent years fighting charges stemming from
massive market bets that brought French bank Societe Generale
close to collapse in 2008. He was convicted of breach
of trust, forgery and fraudulent data manipulation.
For weeks, the former trader had been marching to Paris from
Rome where he met the pope earlier this year, in protest
"against the tyranny of financial markets". He had been followed
by a crowd of reporters and live television crews.
He had been required by French judges to report to a French
police station by midnight to start serving his sentence, which
was confirmed by France's highest appeals court in March.
On Sunday afternoon, Kerviel threatened to stay in Italy and
appealed to France's president to intervene in his case. But he
changed tack later on, crossed the border a little before
midnight and was swiftly arrested by French police.
"The fight will go on. Whatever happens, Societe Generale
and finance in general will continue to hear from me," Kerviel
said a few hours before his arrest.
Kerviel has never denied masking his 50 billion-euro ($68.52
billion) positions, but he says his bosses knew what he was
doing. The courts, however, have each time backed SocGen's
insistence that the trader acted alone.
In March, France's highest appeal court upheld his
three-year jail term. But it quashed 4.9 billion euros in civil
damages that judges had ordered Kerviel to pay to compensate
SocGen for its losses when the bank unwound the trader's
positions in the midst of the financial crisis.
Over the weekend, Kerviel appealed to French President
Francois Hollande to give immunity to unnamed witnesses he said
would be willing to testify in his favour. He claimed he was not
guilty and that his criminal conviction was unfair.
The French president's office has only replied that if
Kerviel asked for presidential grace, his request would be
examined according to usual procedures. Kerviel rejected that
offer, saying it would imply an admission of guilt on his part.
In an emailed statement on Saturday, a spokesman for Societe
Generale criticized the media hype around Kerviel. He said
Kerviel had been the subject of a meticulous investigation,
judged three times and found guilty each time.
($1 = 0.7297 Euros)
(Reporting by Matthias Galante in Menton and Chine Labbe in
Paris; Writing by Natalie Huet; Editing by Stephen Powell, Larry
King and Eric Walsh)