Tuesday 12 September 1995
Sitting in a comfortable-looking Frankfurt prison (pot plants on the window ledges and screws dressed like M&S warehousemen), and faced by a Frost who, to prove this was serious, was elbow deep in papers, Leeson played his hand perfectly. He has the soft features, neatly-pressed shirt and receding hairline of a minor member of the royal family, though the recalcitrant "nuffink" in his conversation (as in Barings has got "nuffink" left) exposed humbler origins. He came across as two things: likeable, and not so much a master criminal, not even a master liar, but a master of post-rationalisation.
The whole Barings Bank collapse, he insisted, was precipitated because he felt sorry for a "young lady trader" on his staff in Singapore, who made a mistake and lost pounds 20,000 one day. Rather than enter this on his daily register, Leeson created a special account, and hid her embarrassment there. What a gent. Soon this became his practice, covering up his staff's disasters until it reached the point where the hedge account had more on deposit than the national bank of Botswana.
Now, had Paxman, say, been in control of this interview, he might have suggested here ("oh come on, Nicky") that Leeson wasn't so much protecting his staff, as protecting his image as a trading superman and the attendant bonuses that came with it. But Frostie preferred to remain open-mouthed in amazement as Leeson recounted that, like a serial killer, what he wanted more than anything was to be caught and the whole thing to stop. But his masters back in London just didn't understand the market he was playing, so, loving the apparent profits he was showing, kept giving him more money to fuel his attempt to gamble his way out of the hole. So the killing continued.
And the Frost jaw was practically on the floor as its owner came to terms with the fact that while Leeson, through subterfuge, lost pounds 350m of Barings's money, the Bank of England, that model of financial rectitude, managed to lose more than pounds 500m more overnight while mounting a damage-limitation operation. It was, indeed, in this that Frost, despite his unctuousness, got to the heart of the Leeson affair. In its mix of greed, arrogance and incompetence, it absolutely characterised the City. Entrust my hard- earned money to that lot to provide me with a pension? I'm off to the casino.
After 37 years of crinoline, flounce and big, big smiles, Come Dancing (BBC1) is, rumour has it, about to be pensioned off as well. It departed on a high, with the final of the World Cup: England taking on Germany. And whatever Alan Yentob might think, all sporting life was there. There was Nicole, half-Dutch, half-South African and thus, following the lead of cricketers, dancing her heart out in the cha-cha-cha for England; there was the Penge Latin Formation Team doing a Chris Waddle and buggering up the penalty dance-out; and there was a familiar looking final score: England 4 Germany 2. Some people were thinking Come Dancing should have been all over years ago. It is now.
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