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Journalists surround former Societe Generale trader Jerome Kerviel, centremas he follows a gendarme to pass a barrier upon arrival in court for the first day of his trial to appeal his three-year jail term in Paris June 4, 2012. (JULIEN MUGUET/REUTERS)
Journalists surround former Societe Generale trader Jerome Kerviel, centremas he follows a gendarme to pass a barrier upon arrival in court for the first day of his trial to appeal his three-year jail term in Paris June 4, 2012. (JULIEN MUGUET/REUTERS)

Rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel turns Catholic pilgrim Add to ...

Once known as a dutiful bank employee, then a rogue trader, then a folk hero, Jérôme Kerviel, the Frenchman accused of perpetrating one of the largest financial fraud ever, has assumed a new role: Catholic pilgrim.

Mr. Kerviel recently travelled to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis and is now returning home on foot, carrying with him a knapsack and a rosary blessed by the Holy Father.

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The journey from Rome to Paris will take about two months and may be interrupted if Mr. Kerviel loses his criminal court case, which is now under appeal, Mr. Kerviel's lawyer, David Koubbi confirmed in an e-mail.

Mr. Kerviel was found guilty in 2010 of making unauthorized trades that cost €4.9-billion ($6.1-billion) and nearly led to the collapse of his employer, the French bank Société Générale SA.

Mr. Koubbi said his client is not on a pilgrimage but a march. Nevertheless, the support committee that has been backing Mr. Kerviel's judicial fight and helping him on his travel describes the endeavour as a pilgrimage while at the same time calling it a "march against the tyranny of the markets."

According to the committee's Twitter account, Mr. Kerviel is currently walking in the Tuscan roads south of Florence. After spending the night in San Quirico d'Orcia, a town in the province of Siena, Mr. Kerveil was expected to travel 28 kilometres Wendesday to another historic Tuscan village, Lucignano D'Arbia.

Meanwhile, in Paris, France's highest court, the Cour de cassation, is to rule on Mr. Kerviel's case on March 19.

Because of his march, Mr. Kerviel will not be in court.

If the judgment goes against him, he can be arrested and taken into custody from wherever he will be at that point in his trek, his lawyer said.

Following the 2010 conviction, Mr. Kerviel was sentenced to three years in jail and was fined the amount lost by SocGen.

While he awaits his judicial fate, he says he has found solace in the words of Pope Francis, who has been critical of financial institutions and free-market economics.

Mr. Kerviel wrote to the pontiff and was granted an audience.

Just before the Feb. 19 meeting, Mr. Kerviel gave an interview to the Catholic website Aleteia.org, where he praised the Holy Father as a moral "beacon who is showing the way" amid the financial crisis.

"Pope Francis is for me a figure -- the figure -- of moral honesty and rightfulness," Mr. Kerviel said.

The meeting at the Vatican lasted a few minutes, according to the French radio network RTL, which said it ended with a handshake and a papal blessing.

"I pray for you," the pope reportedly told Mr. Kerviel.

As Mr. Kerviel is making his way home, his supporters are receiving offers from sympathizers who want to billet him.

He is seen in some quarters as a maverick character who is being scapegoated by an amoral banking system.

Mr. Kerviel was a trader in the Paris offices of SocGen, France's second largest bank, when he speculated between 2007 and 2008 on a series of secret transactions that left his employer exposed to €50 billions' worth of unhedged positions on the futures market.

It cost the bank €4.9-billion ($6.1-billion) to unwind Mr. Kerviel's rogue trading, whiche he had camouflaged behind a record of fictitious hedges.

Mr. Kerviel maintains that his moves had the tacit approval of his superiors because he initially was generating cash. He argues that the bank made things worse by liquidating his positions so precipitately.

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