ING set to fire top Barings executives

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The Independent Online

Financial Correspondent

ING, the Dutch rescuer of Barings, is set to dismiss several top Barings executives involved in the Nick Leeson debacle before it unveils its new business plan for the British merchant bank in two to three weeks' time.

Those most under pressure are thought to be Peter Norris, the former head of Barings securities, and Ronald Baker, the head of the financial products group and Mr Leeson's direct London boss. George Maclean, head of banking, and Geoffrey Barnett, chief operating officer, may also be vulnerable, according to City sources. Altogether 20 executives could go.

This week Hessel Lindenbergh, the ING director now in charge of Barings, said he had not realised how long the Bank of England investigation into the collapse would last, and that if it was not completed by the end of the month he would consider dismissals before then.

Mr Lindenbergh is thought to want to make a big splash with the new business plan, in order to re-establish Barings' position in London. The plan will include the new management line-up. Only three Dutch directors have officially been appointed to the new-look board.

Previously ING had said it would not sack anyone until the Bank's inquiry had been completed. The Bank's Governor, Eddie George, said this week that the first half of the report would be published in about two months, with the second half due two months after that. He then told MPs on Wednesday that ING was free to dismiss executives before then if it wished.

Last week Peter Baring, the former chairman, and chief executive Peter Tuckey resigned. They offered their resignations as soon as ING bought Barings, but had been asked to stay on to smooth the handover.

The administrators to Barings are also keenly awaiting the results of the Bank of England inquiry in order to discover whether they have grounds to sue directors of the bank and its auditors, Coopers & Lybrand.

The administrators, Ernst & Young, sold the vast bulk of Barings to ING but kept control of the Barings holding company, and they are responsible to the British courts for recovering as much of Barings' £700m losses as possible. E&Y refused to comment on the prospects for litigation, but it is understood that administrator Alan Bloom is looking at the auditors' position and awaiting the Bank report.

Brian Singleton-Green, editor of Accountancy magazine and a respected expert on accountancy law, says that although Coopers did not sign off Barings' 1994 accounts this may not save it from being sued by the administrators.

Writing in the latest issue, Mr Singleton-Green says that if Coopers is sued it will probably be concerning the weaknesses in Barings' internal controls.

"Coopers, it may well be alleged, should have spotted the weaknesses and made sure that both Barings' top management and the Bank of England knew about them. Possibly, indeed, Coopers was aware of the weaknesses and did point them out - but nothing to indicate that has emerged so far."

A spokesman for Coopers said: "We are not being sued, and have no reason to believe that we will be."