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Société Générale trader Jérôme Kerviel stands trial

Photo: Reuters

The trial of former trader Jérôme Kerviel opens in Paris on Tuesday.Société Générale accuse their ex-employee of forgery, breach of trust and unauthorised computer use, after he allegedly gambled 50 billion euros of its money in unauthorised deals which led to the loss of five billion euros.

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The trial is expected to last three weeks. If convicted Kerviel will face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of 375,000 euros.

When the case surfaced in January 2008 it was counted as the biggest trading fraud in history, revealing serious lapses in the banking sector. It gave rise to calls for stringent government regulation.

The bank's Chairman Daniel Bouton resigned but has labelled Kerviel “a terrorist”.

Kerviel has always protested his innocence and has written a memoir supporting his claims, in which he acknowledges his mistakes but maintains that his superiors were aware of what he was doing. He says that he was part of a "big banking orgy”.

He wrote that the practice of traders hiding the size of their bets was not uncommon and that bosses frequently ignored possible breaches of trading limits as long as earnings were high, with top earners receiving praise as “good hookers”.

His lawyers argue that the bank was familiar with the risks but did not prevent him as long as he was making money for the bank.

"Are the banking excesses due to Jérôme Kerviel? Or are they due to a banking system?" asked Kerviel's lawyer Olivier Metzner on the eve of the trial. "My aim is to show that at no point did Jerome Kerviel abuse the confidence of the bank."

Metzner says that he will present evidence recovered from trading computers to prove that Société Générale was aware of Kerviel's actions.

“There weren’t any limits in writing and it’s clear that the limits were never respected anyway. All his superiors knew about it, it was all displayed onscreen. They let him do it. That’s why no crime has been committed,” said Metzner.

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