Leeson abandons fight over extradition

Barings collapse: Struggle against Singapore trial dropped as former trader changes tack

DAVID HELLIER

Nick Leeson, the former Barings trader in futures, yesterday gave himself up to be tried in Singapore. For the past few months Mr Leeson, who is being held in a Frankfurt jail, has been petitioning against being tried in Singapore.

But yesterday, through his lawyer in England, he put out the following statement: "After consulting my legal advisers I am satisfied that I will be fairly tried and judged in Singapore.

"I wish to apologise to the Singaporean people for having doubted that I would receive a fair trial there. I have decided to return voluntarily to Singapore and will, therefore, not be pursuing my appeal against the extradition order in Germany."

It is believed that Mr Leeson could be back in Singapore, from where he fled days before Barings crashed in February, in four weeks.

Mr Leeson's chances of returning to the UK for a trial had all but disappeared. Firstly, his attempt to persuade the Serious Fraud Office that there was a case for him to answer in the UK petered out after officers interviewed him in his Frankfurt cell. Then a private prosecution brought by a group of Barings' bond holders, who had lost around pounds 50m in the bank's crash, was taken over by the Serious Fraud Office and quashed. Meanwhile, the Frankfurt authorities cleared the Singapore extradition application at the time Mr Leeson and his lawyers pledged to appeal against this decision.

It has been reported in the past couple of weeks that Mr Leeson's lawyer in Singapore has held talks with the authorities there with a view to the former trader co-operating in the investigation into the role of others at the bank at the time of its collapse. However, yesterday Mr Leeson's London lawyer refused to discuss whether such talks had taken place or whether they had influenced his client's decision.

Mr Leeson's decision to give himself up to Singapore almost certainly comes as a result of his legal team recently giving up hope of being able to gain extradition for him to the UK.

His advisers have never really been confident that they could win the human rights argument to persuade the German authorities to prevent the Singapore extradition application being accepted.

The Singapore authorities want Mr Lesson to stand trial there on 12 charges, including charges of falsifying documents and deception. Mr Leeson, using a secret trading account, ran up losses in Singapore that eventually cost the bank more than pounds 800m and led in February to its collapse.

There may have been other factors though in persuading Mr Leeson's team to change its course of action this weekend. The first is a financial one. Since February Mr Leeson has had to retain two teams of lawyers; one in the UK and one in Germany. Recently he instructed a third team, under solicitor John Koh in Singapore.

Although he is likely to make money from a book on the affair, Mr Leeson's legal costs do appear to have been of concern to him and this weekend's decision will mean that he can dispense with his German team.

There is also the possibility though that Mr Leeson thinks that a more conciliatory attitude on his part towards the Singapore authorities, and a willingness to help them pursue their inquiries into the activities of other employees of the bank may help him to reduce any eventual jail sentence.

In the recent report published by the Singapore authorities, the former Barings directors, James Bax, who is still in Singapore, and Peter Norris, were heavily criticised. Singapore authorities will almost certainly wish to hear Mr Leeson's account of a meeting he held with Mr Norris shortly before the bank's collapse.

Whatever the reasons that have led to this weekend's decision, it comes as a complete about-turn none the less from the position taken by the Leeson camp earlier this year.

At a press conference in the early summer a tearful Lisa Leeson, Mr Leeson's wife, read out a statement from her husband in which he urged the British media to help to prevent him "being thrown to the wolves" in Singapore.

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