Trader didn't act alone, lawyers say

March 09, 1995|By New York Times News Service

LONDON -- Lawyers for Nicholas W. Leeson said yesterday that the former trader for Barings PLC had not been trying to flee from justice when he abruptly left Singapore last month, and that he was not solely responsible for the collapse of the British investment firm.

In their most detailed remarks yet about the case, the lawyers sought to counter the common perception that Mr. Leeson, a 28-year-old Briton, had brought down Barings through ill-advised and unauthorized bets on the direction of Japanese stock and bond prices.

They said he would consider cooperating with British prosecutors about the events inside Barings before its failure a week and a half ago if it would increase his chances of facing any criminal charges in Britain rather than in Singapore.

Speaking at a news conference in Frankfurt, where Mr. Leeson is being held pending possible extradition to Singapore, the lawyers said Mr. Leeson had unfairly become a scapegoat for one of the most spectacular disasters in the financial world.

"If anyone still believes it's 'Nick Leeson, rogue trader' who brought Barings down on his own, you're fairly unrealistic," said one of the lawyers, Stephen Pollard of London.

"The reporting so far has not even scratched the surface of matters which went on within the bank and the management of the bank," Mr. Pollard added.

Mr. Pollard and Eberhard Kempf, Mr. Leeson's German lawyer, said Mr. Leeson and his 23-year-old wife, Lisa Jane Sims, had left Singapore on Thursday, Feb. 23, for a vacation, to escape from the pressure of his job.

"They had left Singapore knowing there was a problem with the bank, that Mr. Leeson's trading had not been successful," Mr. Pollard said.

"There's no question of flight or escape," he added. "They simply packed what you would normally pack for a short holiday. They left using their own passports, which were each in their own names."

The following day, Mr. Leeson sent his resignation by fax to Barings in Singapore from a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, aware that his botched investments might cause him to be fired, Mr. Pollard said.

But Mr. Leeson had no idea that the company could collapse, Mr. Pollard said, and was shocked to see in an English-language newspaper three days later while at a remote resort in Malaysia that Barings had failed.

Reading that they were being sought by Malaysian police, the couple decided that they should return to Britain to deal with the situation from there, Mr. Pollard said.

Ms. Sims has been allowed to go back to England, while her husband remains in jail in Frankfurt.

"Their first thought was to get back to countries they understood, where they knew the system, where they felt they could have got a fairer hearing than in the Far East," Mr. Pollard said, adding that they chose to take a flight to Frankfurt the next morning because they would have had to wait several days for a flight to London.

Mr. Pollard added that Mr. Leeson earned the equivalent of about $85,000 a year, not the millions of dollars that had been reported, and that he did not own a yacht or a Porsche.

Mr. Kempf and Mr. Pollard agreed that the chances of stopping the extradition of Mr. Leeson to Singapore were slim, though the process is likely to take months.

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