French rogue trader Jerome Kerviel trial begins

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Rogue trader Jerome Kerviel went on trial in Paris today accused of one of history's biggest bank frauds.

Jerome Kerviel gave little more than a smile on the first day of his trial in the long-awaited showdown with Societe Generale over his part in a 4.9 billion-euro trading loss that brought the French bank close to collapse.

The 33-year-old rogue trader, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and a light-coloured, thinly striped tie, listened silently and broke into an occasional smile as the presiding magistrate gave his opening statements on the largely procedural day today.

Kerviel, who could face five years in jail and a 375,000-euro fine if found guilty of charges of breach of trust, computer abuse and forgery, declared his profession as consultant and his monthly salary as 2,300 euros.

Two rows of lawyers in black garb sat behind the ex-trader in the hot, cramped courtroom in the Palais de Justice, where the fate of one of the most famous symbols of the financial crisis will be decided over the next two weeks.

The trial has drawn hundreds of journalists from around the globe and the presiding judge has banned the use of microblogging service Twitter inside the courtroom.

Upon his arrival at court, Kerviel remained silent and allowed his lawyer, Olivier Metzner, to address the media scrum.

"We hope that there will be transparency, that the truth will not be obstructed by Societe Generale, like it has been for two years," Metzner said.

Kerviel has been used as a pawn for profit and then thrown away, he said.

The trial will dredge up uncomfortable memories for Societe Generale as it tries to restore investor confidence in the midst of a fragile economic recovery and looming tighter regulation.

The bank's former chairman, Daniel Bouton, who was forced to step down last year in part due to the handling of the Kerviel scandal, has refused to appear in person at the trial, seeing his written testimony as sufficient, the presiding magistrate said.

Although Kerviel has admitted to building unauthorised trading positions leading up to the loss in 2008, he has said breaches in Societe Generale's risk control system were tolerated, and this has been a key part of his legal defence.

Societe Generale has hit back by saying he acted alone and that investigating magistrates had already dismissed his claims of tacit complicity from his bosses.

The bank said before the trial that it held Kerviel entirely responsible and called for an "exemplary punishment".

Facing off in the trial are two of Paris' best-known lawyers - Metzner and Jean Veil.

Cigar-smoking barrister Metzner's clients include ex-Panama dictator Manuel Noriega, one-time Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier and former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

The trial is due to run until June 25, clashing with a crucial investor day for Societe Generale on June 15 as it tries to bolster confidence in its new strategy.

Analysts have said the bank's brand has suffered in the wake of the Kerviel scandal, allowing rival BNP Paribas to gain the advantage with domestic retail customers and, at the same time, forcing SocGen to cut down on proprietary trading.