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Tuesday, 6 July, 1999, 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK
A life after crime
Nick Leeson may seek to reform his image after being freed
On the principle that the best gamekeepers are often reformed poachers, Nick Leeson's lawyer believes the convicted fraudster would be ideally suited to a new job with a financial institution, policing colleagues.

Whatever he chooses to do, the eyes of the world will be on him, because, in a sense, his next step is the most fascinating in the whole saga.

So before searching for a job, he will need to do a certain amount of rehabilitation.

He will have no shortage of role models - real-life criminals who have undergone personality transformations to restore their public images.

Moulding a new life

One of Scotland's most notorious criminals, killer Jimmy Boyle, reinvented himself as a contemporary sculptor after serving time in prison. He even took an active interest in politics, donating 5,000 to the Labour Party, and climbing the social ladder.

A film based on his story, starring Billy Connolly, was released last month.

Earlier this year, a former gangster who had been convicted of violent crime, recently topped a local election poll in Limerick, Irish Republic. Reformed criminal Michael Kelly, 43, said he wanted to win a seat in the Dail and even become a minister because it was his way of repaying his debt to society.

Once convicted of shooting with intent to kill, Mr Kelly spent almost half his adult life behind bars before a meeting with a priest in 1985 transformed his life.

"Before 1985 I had spent 12 of the previous 20 years in prison," he said. "I had convictions for all sorts of violent crime and I regret them. But I haven't done a dishonest thing in 14 years."

A degree of reform

But probably the most astonishing and best-known rehabilitated criminal is John McVicar, once Britain's most wanted man.

Armed robber John McVicar became a writer and sociologist
He twice escaped jail in the 1960s while serving time for robbery and assault. The second time, he remained at large for two years.

Inside again, he began to reform and passed three A-levels in Leicester jail in 1972. In 1974, he published his autobiography and went on to script the film of his life, starring rock singer Roger Daltrey.

McVicar gained a sociology degree in 1977 and has worked as a journalist and sociologist since.

But the case which evokes most comparison with Nick Leeson is that of Michael Milken.

Financial king disgraced

Mr Milken became known as the junk bond king of Wall Street, after fuelling a frenzy of hostile takeovers with innovative financing and easy credit.

His activities were described as "the greatest criminal conspiracy the financial world has ever known".

He and co-conspirators set up a web of deceitful transactions that eventually led to the disgrace of junk-bond financing and forced his company out of business.

Michael Milken has set up charitable institutions
Mr Milken faced 98 charges of racketeering, insider trading and securities fraud and, after plea-bargaining, pleaded guilty to six.

He was jailed for 22 months in 1990 - released early from a 10-year sentence - and was banned from working in the financial services industry for life. He also had to pay more than $1bn in fines and repayments, but it did not ruin him.

Estimates put his wealth when he was freed at $700m, which he used to found new businesses.

Together with his lawyer brother and the chief executive of Oracle, Larry Ellison, he launched computer technology and retraining company Knowledge Universe in 1996.

One of its holdings is the British company Spring, based in the Wirral, Merseyside, which provides a range of consultancy services including vocational training and recruitment.

He has also been buying a string of other companies in the UK and the US, in the expanding educational services consultancy field.

Charity dealings

On top of his business dealings, Mr Milken has been working to restore his reputation and paint himself as misunderstood.

He has set up the Milken Institute, an economic and public policy think tank, and expanded the Milken Family Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic organisation set up in 1982 to fund medical research and provide grants to "outstanding teachers".

Indeed, he has earned respect for his drive and bringing about change to the financial world.

But the most eerie parallel with Leeson is his cancer.

Shortly after his release Mr Milken announced that he had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and given 12 to 18 months to live.

Leeson was also freed early, for good behaviour, after he was diagnosed with colon cancer in prison. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy and has been told there is a 30% chance of the cancer returning.

The former junk bond king puts his survival down to his healthy diet, daily yoga and meditation and a new apreciation of the natural world. Last year he produced a Taste for Living Cookbook, about his vegetarian diet.

He has raised $75m for prostate cancer research.

Somehow, it is hard to see Leeson following a similar path, but, then, stranger things have happened.

See also:

03 Jul 98 | UK
02 Jul 99 | Business
03 Jul 99 | Business
04 Jul 99 | Business
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