Trader in French Bank Debacle a New Folk Icon

As the French bank Societe Generale seeks to blame 31-year-old trader Jerome Kerviel for more than $7 billion in losses, an odd trend has emerged: Some Web sites praise him for exposing flaws in "Anglo-Saxon capitalism."

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NPR's Business News starts with the French banking drama.

French banks are circling their wounded competitor Societe Generale. They're eyeing it for a possible purchase. Societe Generale is still convulsing from revelations that a rogue trader made secret trades that cost the bank more than $7 billion and the head of the bank is barely managing to hold on his job this week.


French police have seized the personal computer of the young trader at the center of that scandal. Jerome Kerviel is in custody as police try to figure out how he hid his trades and whether he acted alone. Top French officials are portraying him as a lonely fraudster.

But on the Internet, he has a very different reputation as Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: In real life, the 31-year-old rogue futures trader Jerome Kerviel may be under police investigation for fraud and breach of trust. But on the Internet, he's come to be known as the Che Guevera of finance and the James Bond of Societe Generale.

In the last two weeks, Kerviel has acquired a worldwide Web fan club and is feted by the French left as a hero who undermined one of the temples of capitalism from within its walls.

John Ayne(ph), an American who run a financial company in Paris, says he's not surprised by the outpouring of bonhomie for Kerviel.

MONTAGNE: There's a high degree of suspicion towards business from, you know, the French public generally. You can see, in that context, why people might glorify someone that, you know, causes harm to a big financial institution.

BEARDSLEY: Societe Generale is attempting to portray the traitor as a sort of evil genius and computer whiz kid who bilked the bank and the French people. But on the Internet, the story of a low-level trader bringing an arrogant French bank to its knees is a glorious occasion to lampoon the pretensions of the financial world, including France's pro-business President Nicolas Sarkozy.


LE CHIC: (Singing) Aaaahh, freak out. Le freak, c'est chic.

BEARDSLEY: Dozens of videos on YouTube and Daily Motions satirize the saga. One video shows a string of catastrophes. The narrator says: Tsunamis, plane crashes, whatever your problems, you can now blame them on Jerome Kerviel.

U: Jerome Kerviel (speaking in foreign language)

BEARDSLEY: And as to the evolving hero status on the Web, Kerviel's slight resemblance to actor Tom Cruise hasn't gone unnoticed. For just $18, female fans can get a T-shirt with the slogan: Jerome Kerviel's Girlfriend.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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