Nick Leeson, who became perhaps the world's best-known "rogue trader" after his covert speculating toppled Britain's Barings Bank, has some advice for Baltimore "rogue trader" John Rusnak: "Be truly remorseful."
Leeson, 38, served nearly 4 1/2 years in a Singapore prison for his cover-up of $1.4 billion in trading losses that collapsed his employer, the 242-year-old Barings, in 1995.
He has watched from afar the story of Rusnak, 40, who covered up $691 million in losses that preceded the end of Allfirst Financial Inc. in Baltimore three years ago. Rusnak is serving 7 1/2 years in federal prison.
"Ultimately Mr. Rusnak's basic integrity and honesty were tested during this affair, as was mine during my time at Barings, and both of us failed those tests dismally," Leeson wrote in an e-mail exchange. "We have to accept the responsibility and the blame as a consequence."
Leeson now lives on the western coast of Ireland in the village of Barna. He has parlayed his infamy into a career on the worldwide lecture circuit, charging more than $9,000 a gig.
The job takes him to places such as the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., where he appeared last fall as a keynote speaker for a symposium about fraud. According to the brochure, he told "the quintessential tale of financial risk management gone wrong." He also tells audiences about his battle with colon cancer, which was diagnosed in prison and later successfully treated.
"Many people and companies are interested in hearing the story from a human-interest perspective, and a lot of institutions in light of the increased level of corporate governance use the story as a tool to warn employees that corporate governance, risk management and compliance should be treated with respect," Leeson wrote.
While in prison, Leeson wrote a book, Rogue Trader, that was made into a movie that played in British theaters when he got out of prison in 1999. "He'll risk everything to beat the system!" read the tagline on film posters that featured actor Ewan McGregor.
Leeson said $2 million in book advances was all spent on legal bills and he didn't profit from the movie.
For his part, Rusnak, in an interview in prison in West Virginia, said he won't "capitalize on my image as a fraudster" by following Leeson onto the speaking circuit or by writing a book, although he added that he hears Leeson is "a very decent guy."
"I don't have any intent to wallow in this afterward," Rusnak said. "I really want to put this behind me, and I think that's best for everyone involved."
Leeson, however, said he doesn't feel he should have to apologize for the way he earns his money now.
"I've been given a second chance in many different respects, and I'm going to grab that chance with both hands," he wrote from Ireland. "If I upset a few people along the way, so be it. That's their problem."