Barings 'conspiracy' obstructed rescue

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A cover-up by former top Barings executives prevented last-minute action that could have saved the bank from collapse, the Singapore authorities claimed yesterday. Accusing two former executives of lying and of concealing vital information, the Singapore report on the bankruptcy of Barings raised the spectre of conspiracy.

In abrasive language, so different from the British authorities' report, published in July, the Singapore officials slated the Bank of England for failing its supervisory responsibilities when Barings massively exceeded the accepted safety limits for exposure to risk on several Asian exchanges. The Singapore authorities accused the Bank of England of obstructing their inquiries in Britain, even going so far as to seize interview transcripts.

Next to Nick Leeson, whose speculation broke the bank under nearly pounds 1bn of losses, the Singapore investigators pointed their fingers at Peter Norris, former chief executive of Barings, and James Bax, head of operations in Singapore.

They were accused of covering up a pounds 50m accountancy discrepancy, found by auditors in January 1995, that turned out to be a crucial indication of the fraudulent trades allegedly woven by Mr Leeson: "Mr Norris and Mr Bax have denied being involved in any plan either to underplay the significance of the discrepancy or to discourage independent investigations into the matter. However, we are unable to accept their denials.

"It seems probable that until February 1995, the Baring Group could have averted collapse by timely action. By the end of January 1995, although substantial losses had been incurred, these were only one quarter the eventual losses."

The Singapore investigators also suggested some Barings executives must have known about Mr Leeson's secret 88888 account, used to conceal the losses: "For three years account 88888 purportedly escaped the notice of the entire Baring Group management. Yet within hours after the Baring Group senior management concluded that Mr Leeson had fled, Baring personnel, working in London and Singapore with incomplete documentation, uncovered account 88888 and identified it as the immediate cause of the collapse." The Bank of England yesterday refused to comment on the criticism in the Singapore report.

Leading article, page 18

Fate of Barings, page 21