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Former trader Jerome Kerviel, centre, arrives at Paris courts for the verdict in his trial. (CHARLES PLATIAU/Charles Platiau/Reuters)
Former trader Jerome Kerviel, centre, arrives at Paris courts for the verdict in his trial. (CHARLES PLATIAU/Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Anger grows over Kerviel sentence Add to ...

A week after judges threw the book at fallen rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel for risky bets that cost Société Générale €4.9-billion ($6.79-billion), the dust has yet to settle on France's biggest trading scandal.

A Paris court on Oct. 5 sentenced Mr. Kerviel to three years in jail and demanded he repay SocGen in full, vindicating the bank's position that the 33-year-old son of a hairdresser had acted without supervisors knowing.

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But the record fine sparked anger among politicians and the public, undermining SocGen's bid to make a fresh start and giving Mr. Kerviel a springboard of support for his appeal.

"The public sympathises with Kerviel. He's seen as having fought the system," Paris-based lawyer Mabrouk Sassi said.

An online poll by Europe 1 radio last week showed 83 per cent of people believed the sentence was "excessive", chiming with newspaper headlines that slammed the decision as "absurd".

Mr. Kerviel would need 177,000 years to repay SocGen on his current salary as a technology consultant. "To make him pay €4.9 billion, it seems enormous," said 30-year-old accountant Sabrina Laldji on a Paris high street.

Although Mr. Kerviel never denied faking trades to hide his positions, he did not profit from them and said supervisors knew what he was doing, an argument rejected by the court.

SocGen's image as a high-flying investment bank is making it easier for the French public to bristle, said Mr. Sassi. The ripples of the financial crisis are still being felt as unions take to the streets to fight proposed pension reform.

"The verdict puts (SocGen) back at the heart of the problem, even though the bank was not on trial," a union representative at SocGen said after the verdict.

Weekend publicity about the bank's entitlement to €1.7-billion in tax writeoffs on the trading losses has also led to criticism from politicians such as former Socialist leader François Hollande, who called for tax laws to be changed.

This comes on top of government spokesman Luc Chatel saying SocGen should make a "gesture" in relation to the damages, and the bank's declaration it would not claim the whole €4.9-billion.

SocGen says the writeoff against exceptional losses had already been made public in filings and was entirely legal.

Still, the public outcry has given Mr. Kerviel a chance to fight back. France allows jail and other punishments to be suspended until appeals are exhausted: this is unlikely to be before 2012.

"I really get the feeling I'm being made to pay for everyone, for the financial crisis," an unshaven, tense Mr. Kerviel told French TV in an interview late on Sunday, adding he had received "numerous" letters of support.

Online support for Mr. Kerviel is also sprouting, harking back to early 2008 when the scandal broke and many web users around the world hailed him as an anti-hero.

More than 2,300 Facebook users are fans of a group called "Let's help Jérôme Kerviel find €5-billion", Twitter is littered with curt reactions lambasting the verdict, and website Kervielthon.com, a reference to fundraising telethons, is asking the public to make donations to help the ex-trader's cause.

But the man himself remains a mystery even to those who were at the heart of events in early 2008, when markets were in meltdown and the emergence of a rogue trader raised the spectre of a takeover of SocGen - France's second-biggest listed bank.

"Jérôme Kerviel is an enigma to me," Hugues Le Bret, former head of communications at SocGen, told RTL radio. "I don't understand what he did ... I've never seen the slightest bit of emotion on his face."

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