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Rogue Trader Jerome Kerviel: Was the Punishment Too Harsh?

Stocks in this article: SCGLY

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Jerome Kerviel, the rogue trader whose wild bets led French bank Societe Generale (SCGLY) to a multi-billion dollar loss in early 2008, has been sentenced to three years in prison.

The prison term is, ironically, where he gets off easy, as it will likely take several lifetimes to pay his fine -- a whopping $6.7 billion.

The figure is equal to the amount it cost Societe Generale to unwind his speculative trades, which the bank claims were unauthorized. Kerviel claimed throughout his trial that the bank knew of his activities and chose to turn a blind eye so long as his bets made money.

It would take Kerviel 304,000 years to pay his dues, the Wall Street Journal estimates, assuming he gets paid minimum wage once he is freed from prison.

Jerome Kerviel
A Paris court sentenced former Societe Generale trader Jerome Kerviel, 33, to three years in prison.

Some may say it is not an unjustified punishment for a trader who systematically took unauthorized bets that were too risky and covered up his actions by creating fictitious trades. Others may argue that that Societe Generale got off too lightly for its role in the mess.

Societe Generale has paid a $5.5 million fine to France's banking commission for not adequately supervising Kerviel. But that may seem too low a price to pay for the kind of loose risk management practices that have hurt investors and contributed to destabilizing the financial system in recent years.

Of course, Kerviel could always get out of prison and write a best-selling book or two about how he beat the system, not unlike another famous rogue trader, Nick Leeson, on whom the film Rogue Trader is based.

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