Rogue trader Jerome Kerviel made a last-minute bid to avoid jail on Saturday, announcing he would stay in Italy rather than return to France to begin a three-year prison term.
Kerviel, who brought one of Europe's biggest banks to the brink of bankruptcy, said he would not cross the border into his homeland until he had received a response to his request for French President Francois Hollande to grant immunity to potential witnesses who could testify in his favour in connection with the near collapse of Societe Generale.
"I will wait for Francois Hollande's response on the Italian side," Kerviel said just yards (metres) from the French-Italian border near the Riviera town of Menton. "If they want to come and get me, let them come."
In another development in the saga, aides to Hollande said they would consider a request from Kerviel for a presidential pardon over his role in the loss of nearly five billion euros through wildly risky trades.
"If he asks for presidential grace, it will be considered under the usual procedure," an aide to Hollande said after the president himself had refused to comment on a case which has seen Kerviel win backing from prominent left-wingers and leading figures in the Roman Catholic Church who believe he has unfairly been made a scapegoat for the shortcomings of his employer and the entire banking system.
But Kerviel said: "I am not seeking a pardon.... That is not the question that I have put to President Hollande," Kerviel told France 2 television, adding that he is still waiting for a reply.
By staying in Italy, Kerviel risks further charges being levied against him over his defiance of a French judicial system that had appeared lenient in not insisting on him returning to France immediately after his conviction was upheld on appeal in March.
A prosecutor in Nice confirmed that Kerviel remained subject to an order to present himself at a French police station by Sunday at the latest.
Kerviel, 37, has spent the last two months on a walk from Rome intended to raise awareness of what he regards as the unfair treatment he has received from the courts.
He was tramping through Tuscany when France's top appeals court upheld his 2010 conviction for breach of trust, forgery and entering false data in relation to unauthorised deals that brought his former employer to the brink of collapse.
- 'I was a jerk' -
The ruling left Kerviel, who served 41 days in pre-trial detention in 2008, liable to be imprisoned at any time.
He continues to maintain that the bank was just as much at fault as he was.
"Everyone is fed up with this system," he said on Saturday. "I am here to denounce the system and I have a lot of people who want to join me in that.
"I'm ashamed to have been a part of this system. I was a jerk at the time and I am going to spend the rest of my life testifying to that."
Kerviel's support committee is chaired by the Bishop of Gap and Embrun, Jean-Michel di Falco, who presided over a mass in support of the former trader on Saturday.
"There are those who are astonished to see priests by Jerome's side," he said during the service. "I reply to them that they do not know the work of the disciples."
Another priest, Patrice Gourrier, reiterated his pledge to complete the 1,400-kilometre (870-mile) Rome-to-Paris walk if Kerviel is unable to do so himself.
Although the March court ruling upheld Kerviel's sentence -- a five-year prison term with two suspended -- it cancelled an order for the former trader to pay back the money he lost and ordered a review of the damages award.
Kerviel's lawyers argue that this decision means the bank will effectively be put on trial over the failure of its supervisory system. His supporters say it is unfair for him to go to prison while the courts have not resolved that issue.