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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February 2005, 16:10 GMT
Leeson's legacy lives on in Singapore
By Malcolm Borthwick
BBC World Asia Business Report editor in Singapore

Ten years ago this week, the rogue trader Nick Leeson fled Singapore after realising he could no longer hide his trading losses of more than $1bn.

Nick Leeson following his release in 1999
Leeson was released in 1999 after four-years in a Singapore prison

Leeson had already been racking up huge losses for over a year, but by the morning of 23 February 1995 the pressure had reached boiling point.

In a final effort to recover the losses, the Barings trader had bet on the Nikkei index of leading Japanese shares to rise.

But his gamble didn't pay off.

The Japanese stock market kept falling, leading to even bigger losses. On that day, he had lost more than $50m by lunchtime and his boss wanted to meet him to discuss the sizeable hole emerging on Barings' balance sheet.

As Leeson writes in his autobiography Rogue Trader, "It was time to run".

Luxury resort

On that Thursday afternoon in 1995, Leeson left the office and took the next available flight to Kuala Lumpur with his wife Lisa, where they checked into the five-star Regent Hotel.

Key dates 1995
Nick Leeson, March 1995
January: Leeson is already losing serious money
Mid-February: Leeson makes increasingly risky deals to cover mounting losses
23 Feb: Leeson runs away and the bank's senior executives are warned about the extent of the losses
24 Feb: Barings tells the Bank of England that it is in trouble
26 Feb: The High Court in London appoints administrators to run Barings Bank and news of Leeson's rogue trades break in the early editions of the Sunday papers in the UK
2 March: The search for Leeson ends and he is detained at Frankfurt airport after a week on the run
5 March: Dutch banking and insurance group ING buys Barings for 1 and assumes liabilities of over $600m
2 December: Leeson is sentenced

At the same time, on the other side of the world, senior Barings executives in London were starting to discover the extent of the losses.

The story broke in the early editions of the British Sunday papers that the country's oldest merchant bank was on the brink of collapse and the epic search to find the missing trader was on.

Soon, rumours emerged that Leeson had sped across the causeway to Malaysia in his Porsche, or that he had escaped on a private yacht.

In fact, they were holed up in a Malaysian luxury resort.

After seeing news of Barings' collapse on the front page of a newspaper in a local shop a few days later, they plotted their escape back to Britain in an attempt to evade the Singaporean authorities.

But on 2 March, Leeson was arrested at Frankfurt airport and the international manhunt for the missing trader ended.

Leeson was eventually extradited to Singapore where he was sentenced to six years in Changi Prison.

Behind bars

But despite Leeson being convicted of fraud, some of his colleagues felt that he was not the only one at fault.

"The management trusted him too much," a Barings employee in Singapore at the time says.

The Singapore Cricket Club
Leeson was banned from The Singapore Cricket Club

"Nick was the star trader at Barings because his trades contributed a huge amount of money.

"Because of this, a lot of the checks and balances that should have been noted were ignored."

Still, Leeson's stay in Singapore had not been without controversy.

"Nick didn't talk to his colleagues much," a former colleague recalls.

"He kept himself to himself, but he had a bit of a reputation out on the town."

This included Leeson being banned from one of Singapore's grandest sporting establishments, The Singapore Cricket Club, for a racist slur and for punching another member.

Another incident involved an alcohol-fuelled mooning escapade in a Singapore bar which earned him a night behind bars.

Elusive Lady Luck

Leeson's legacy lives on in Singapore's Harry's Bar, Leeson's old watering hole.

ING in Singapore
ING has ditched the Barings name

It's a jazz bar on the quayside, just a stones' throw from the financial district, and still a regular haunt for city traders.

"I met Nick here a few times," says Leong Sze Hian, a former currency trader and a contemporary of Leeson.

"He was just a regular guy and you wouldn't guess he was the man who sunk Barings."

But the mid-nineties were heady days for traders in Singapore. They had been operating in a bull market for the past decade and everyone had been raking in a fortune.

And then the house of cards started coming down.

"I remember February 1995 well, because a bit like Leeson, my luck turned," says Mr Leong.

"I was trading dollar yen at the time and lost $60,000 of my own money on a single trade; it nearly wiped me out."

Bank breaker

A few days after Nick Leeson's arrest in Frankfurt, Barings Bank was sold to Dutch banking and insurance giant ING for the paltry sum of 1, bringing to an end more than 230 years of banking history.

The bank was renamed ING Barings, but today no trace of Barings remains in Singapore's financial district.

ING has dropped Barings from its logo and the plaque outside simply reads ING.

Few in Singapore want to be associated with Leeson.

Former acquaintances deny knowing him, booksellers deliberately fail to display his autobiography and none of the major video and DVD stores stock the film Rogue Trader, starring Ewan McGregor and Anna Friel.

Still, Leeson's name lives on down at Harry's bar, where this week they'll be doing a roaring trade in the king of shots, the Bank Breaker, a drink specially created to commemorate the infamous trader.

A mixture of Midori, whisky and a double measure of soda water, it's sweet and goes down smoothly, but aptly has a deceptive kick that takes you by surprise.

For Harry's Bar manager Andrew Koh, the Leeson link has been a boon.

"When Nick was released from Changi Prison in 1999, we held a 'Flight of Freedom' party," Mr Koh recalls.

"We served free beer for two hours and all the staff had T-shirts printed with the words, 'Leeson Learns His Lesson'.

"We half hoped that Nick might drop in for a drink but he didn't of course, he was whisked off by the authorities."

Leeson was released in 1999. He currently lives in Ireland.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The legacy of rogue trader Nick Leeson



SEE ALSO
ING ends link with Baring name
22 Nov 04 |  Business
Leeson goes free
03 Jul 99 |  Asia-Pacific
The double life of Leeson
02 Jul 99 |  Business

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