How Leeson's deceit went unchecked for months

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The Independent Online
This is the story, told for the first time in detail, of how Nick Leeson managed to bring down the Queen's bank. It is drawn from a private and confidential report prepared for the administrators of Barings in the immediate aftermath of the collapse.

What follows is based largely on conversations that investigators held with Tony Hawes, treasurer of Baring Securities Group Treasury, Tony Gamby, global head of settlements, and Brenda Grainger, head of futures and options settlement.

It shows that while Leeson acted with cunning and deceit, there was a parallel failure of management and control of breathtaking proportions. Leeson's trading activities went almost completely unchecked over a prolonged period of time and repeated expressions of concern were never properly acted on.

By 24 February this year, margin calls to meet Leeson's positions on the Singapore futures exchange had reached £306m.

The documents show that the requests for funds came at the end of each day's trading in Singapore from either Leeson or one of his staff. The requests were for round amounts, and were to cover the bank's and clients' trading positions.

The Singapore office would update client records in London via a data feed identifying clients by number. On the basis of this data the London settlements office would calculate the cash necessary to cover client margins.

The report shows that London appears to have assumed that any imbalance between cash requested by Leeson and client positions was to meet positions being run up in Singapore by another Barings business, Baring Securities Japan.

This was a false assumption because the Baring Securities Japan positions were actually funded by external banks and other parts of the Barings Group. The document reads: "There was no complete reconciliation to ensure funds remitted matched in total those required from clients or in respect of house positions."

The report continues: "The total unreconciled amount grew from £22m at 31 December 1993 to £306m as at 24 February 1995. The unreconciled balance in Barings books at the year end was £120m."

The investigators found meetings were held in late November or early December to discuss the concerns of Ron Baker, head of Barings' financial products group, and Mary Walz, head of equity financial products, that they were not getting sufficiently detailed answers to questions about Singapore's accounting records.

A report was commissioned from Jeremy Stunt, a senior Baring Securities executive.

According to the administrators' investigators, "The recommendations in the report, which appeared towards the end of December/early January, satisfied Baker and Walz on the question of funding costs. Hawes said, however, that the report had only dealt with the first half of the question and that a reconciliation of the client loans accounts was still required.

"As a result it was decided that Simon Jones (operations director, South Asia) and Leeson would undertake the required reconciliation task."

At the same time an executive, Gerald Ashley, was asked to go to Singapore to supervise the back office. However he declined to go.

Mr Hawes, "who was by then becoming increasingly concerned at the unreconciled position in Singapore", decided to visit Singapore on 6 February.

Mr Leeson had been misleading Simex, the Singapore market authority. "Each day Simex required Baring Futures Singapore to send a `large exposure' report listing client positions by code number."

The "initial margin" - the cash needed to back a client's futures and options trading position - "was calculated by a system called SPAN" and operated by Simex.

"Trades for the day were entered into BFS' (Baring Futures Singapore) CONTAC accounting system which should have been the source of the data required by SPAN.

"However instead of calculating the gross position, Leeson arranged for one client's position to be netted off against another's short position, thereby reducing the client margin calculated by SPAN.

"The principal netting was between the BSJ (Baring Securities Japan) Nikkei arbitrage client and a BFS errors account 88888 ...

"It was believed by BFS staff and directors to be a London account but it was never reported to London and it was shown in BFS books as one of their own.

"BFS accounting records generated customer statements in two parts. The white part was sent to the customer in most cases by fax. A blue copy was retained for office records. Leeson had given standing instructions to staff to shred the blue copy of a/c 88888 and to give him the top copy.

"At the end of each month it appears that Leeson would instigate a series of accounting entries to credit a/c 88888 with enough funds to reduce the large debit balance to a small amount, such as might be represented by genuine errors or London client balances.

"The contra was a series of fictitious receivables accounts - different ones were used at different month ends and at 31 12 94 the substantial balance was shown as a receivable due from Spear Leeds Kellogg.

"Entries would be reversed the next day or later if Leeson was out of the office... auditors queried the Spear Leeds Kellogg receivable and were shown a falsified confirmation. Later they were given manufactured evidence to show that it had been paid in the form of a credit to BFS' segregated client account at Citibank."