Hopkins: Was he a whistle-blower or just negligent?

SFA rejects former Barings chief's claims by imposing three-year City ban with pounds 10,000 costs penalty

Ian Hopkins, the "whistle-blower" who says he alerted Barings to the huge losses being run up in Singapore by the bank's rogue trader, Nick Leeson, was yesterday banned from the City for three years and ordered to pay pounds 10,000 costs after the Securities and Futures Authority rejected his version of events.

Announcing the results of disciplinary proceedings against Mr Hopkins, former head of group treasury and risk at Barings Investment Bank, the SFA dismissed claims that his warnings were ignored by more senior Barings executives.

Nick Durlacher, the SFA chairman, said: "The facts do not support this suggestion. An impartial tribunal has scrupulously considered all the available evidence and judged that Mr Hopkins did not 'blow the whistle' with any clarity, force or urgency. On the contrary, the tribunal found that his actions fell far short of the standards expected of a prudent man in such a senior position."

Last night Mr Hopkins, who refused to appear before the tribunal but waged a highly public campaign to clear his name, rejected the SFA's findings but said he would not contest them.

He also said he regretted "the gratuitously vindictive terms" in which they had been expressed and repeated his claim that he had been victimised for refusing to plead guilty to lesser charges and thus escape with only a reprimand, as some other Barings executives have.

Mr Hopkins said that during a telephone conversation with Mr Durlacher in January last year he was led to believe that the SFA would accept such a deal, allowing him to remain a "fit and proper person" and thus be eligible for readmission to the SFA's list of directors. But he was not prepared to agree to something that was untrue "however seductive the proposition".

Mr Hopkins said: "I am surprised that the SFA has been able to achieve so much certainty in its view of what did and did not happen, and about who said what to whom, in the face of so much documented and circumstantial evidence to the contrary."

Mr Hopkins maintained that had his warnings and recommendations been acted upon, then Leeson's fraud would have been uncovered three months before his illegal dealings in the Tokyo futures market brought the bank crashing down with losses of pounds 800m in February 1995.

However, the tribunal ruled that Mr Hopkins had failed to act with "due skill, care and diligence" in his job of managing the day-to-day working capital and credit needs of Leeson as his losses mounted and had therefore ceased to be fit and proper to be registered as a director.

Mr Hopkins declined to appear at the three-day hearing in January, saying he could not afford the very substantial costs of attending. Had he contested the charges, he would have had to bear all the costs of the tribunal, including those of the SFA which retained a leading QC to plead its case.

However, Mr Hopkins did lodge a large amount of written evidence with the tribunal, including his testimony to the Commons Treasury Committee investigation into the affair, letters from former colleagues and six separate memoranda to his bosses sent between November 1994 and January 1995.

In one of them he said, with reference to Barings (Futures) Singapore Limited, that "our systems and control culture are distinctly flaky". In another, dated 7 November 1994, he proposed the appointment of an Asian regional treasurer to Barings Investment Bank but this was blocked on cost grounds.

He also quoted from the report of the inspectors appointed by Singapore's finance minister, who concluded: "In our view the collapse might have been averted if Mr Hopkins' concerns had been taken seriously, and acted upon promptly and effectively."

However, the tribunal concluded that none of Mr Hopkins' memoranda or submissions constituted an adequate defence. Mr Hopkins knew that funds being advanced to Leeson from London to cover his increasing financial exposure on the Singapore International Monetary Exchange remained unreconciled. These funds, known as the top-up, stood at pounds 100m in September, 1994 and had risen to pounds 306m by the time Barings collapsed.

But, said the tribunal, he failed to control or reconcile these top-ups and failed to advise the bank's asset and liability committee, its management committee and its chief executive, Peter Norris, of the lack of reconciliation or take steps to stem the mounting exposure.

He also failed to alert superiors to the fact that Leeson was both in charge of trading in Singapore and the back office function of reconciling each day's trading, even though an internal audit report had mistakenly stated that customer statement reconciliations took place in London.

Comment, page 19

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