Investigators vie to nail Barings culprits

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The Independent Online
City regulators are falling over each other to nail whoever shared responsibility for the Barings disaster. Six teams of investigators are now sifting evidence around the world.

Sources close to the investigations say that regulators, often criticised for failing to spot transgressions or conduct adequate investigations, see as "easy meat" those who either aided or overlooked derivatives trader Nick Leeson's avtivities. They are now competing for the trophy of being the first to name names.

Separate investigations into the Barings saga are being carried out, with varying degrees of co-operation, by the Bank of England's Board of Banking Supervision, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the Singapore authorities, the Securities and Futures Authority (SFA), Barings administrators Ernst & Young, and the new owner, ING.

The UK regulators are also acutely conscious of the need to reassure overseas financial institutions, post Barings, that British firms which provide and use derivatives are adequately supervised.

Today, a delegation including Christopher Sharples, head of the Securities and Futures Authority, is flying to the US to urge the Commodity Futures Trading Commission(CFTC) to lift its threat against UK firms selling derivatives to US clients.

The CFTC, based in Washington, is considering whether to drop special rules which allow British houses to sell derivatives directly to US clients. The suggestion is that the Barings debacle proves UK controls are inadequate.

US derivatives dealers would be delighted to see their London competitors handicapped by a change in the rules. UK exchanges such as Liffe have recently been increasing their market share against rivals in New York and Chicago.

Mr Sharples will be leaving behind him an increasingly confused picture as to which Barings investigation has priority.

There is no centralised co-ordinating body. The most senior probe would appear to be that by the Bank of England, using the Board of Banking Supervision. The Board has appointed Ian Watt, a senior forensic accountant from the Bank, to head a team of accountants and lawyers on a wide ranging investigation into what actually happened at Barings.

The Bank has repeatedly stressed that it has no intention of commenting on who was to blame, or which Barings directors may be blackballed from the City, until the investigation is completed.

The Bank has therefore been disconcerted by comments from Mr Sharples, that a number of Barings directors will be ineligible for re-registration under Barings' new owners ING.

Although Mr Sharples insisted yesterday that this was only a temporary measure until the Bank had completed its own investigation, he has still created the impression that a number of directors have already been blackballed.

The SFA insisted yesterday that its investigations into the Barings affair were in "close cooperation" with the Bank's own probe.

Barings' administrators, Ernst & Young, have sold on the vast bulk of the bank to ING, but they still have a responsibility to the Department of Trade and Industry to report on the conduct of Barings' directors. The administrators also have to pursue any possible legal claims on behalf of Barings' creditors. This may mean suing Barings' auditors, Coopers & Lybrand. Such issues have prompted E&Y to send in their own team to sift through the evidence. The SFO has sent a team to establish whether a crime was committed on UK soil. The SIB is not conducting its own inquiry, but is understood to be quietly amused at its fellow regulators' near desperation to be the first to report on Barings.

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