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SocGen trader becomes unlikely cyberspace hero

PARIS (Reuters) - Jerome Kerviel’s handful of Internet friends might have melted into the ether after he was accused of committing the biggest fraud in banking history, but he has found thousands of new fans in cyberspace.

The 31-year-old trader had 11 friends visible on the facebook.com networking Web site when news broke on Thursday he had been blamed for a $7 billion loss at France’s Societe Generale bank. Within 24 hours that number had dropped to one.

At the same time newfound admirers and comics filled the facebook void, creating three fake profiles of the previously anonymous derivatives trader and 21 support groups.

One of the groups is named “Jerome Kerviel should be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics,” and had attracted 1,209 members from around the world by Sunday morning. A straight forward

“Jerome Kerviel FanClub” drew 865 members.

Another more ambitious group was named “If 5 billion persons join this group and give 1 euro we save Jerome Kerviel career”. It had just 455 members by Sunday, suggesting the Frenchman had some way to go before salvaging his job.

Kerviel handed himself over to police on Saturday and faced 48 hours of questioning before prosecutors decide whether to open formal legal proceedings against him.

For many Web surfers the verdict was already in.

“Jerome le champion!!!” wrote Nazih Saade from Canada, “Congratulations Jerome we’re with you!” said Miles McKernan from Spain, “God damn it, Jerome is the man,” said Hussein Tiba from Lebanon. “Jerome Kerviel is the Che Guevara of finance!” Sebastien Philippe said in a post from Luxembourg.

Although market analysts and bankers said the scandal had dealt a sharp blow to France’s reputation as a financial centre of excellence, many internauts saw a funny side to the saga -- especially those from beyond French borders.

“Finally a French record in finance!” wrote Sebastian Jousten from Belgium, a longstanding butt of French jokes.

One English-language joke doing the rounds on the Web poked fun at France’s 35-hour work week, saying this had “created unbearable levels of stress” for the youthful trader.

“Kerviel was known to start work as early as nine in the morning and still be at his desk at five or even five-thirty, often with just an hour and a half for lunch,” said the witticism, posted on numerous sites.

Enterprising souls grabbed the jeromekerviel.com Web domain and suggested the detained banker might have a future as an agony aunt. “Are you trading under pressure? Jerome understands. Send your story now ... confidentiality is assured,” it says.

Someone else set up a lighthearted “jerometherogue” blog.

“So here I am, one of the most popular names on the internet, coming in a close second to some porn star no doubt. ... Well at least some are saying I’m good looking. I guess one has to be grateful for small mercies at a time like this.”

Editing by Matthew Tostevin

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