Norris barred for three years over Barings

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The Independent Online
Peter Norris, the former chief executive of Barings, was yesterday barred from holding any management position in the investment banking industry for at least three years. The Securities and Futures Authority, the City watchdog, found Mr Norris' part in the collapse of Britain's oldest merchant bank amounted to a serious failure of his managerial duties. He was also fined pounds 10,000.

However, following negotiations over the terms of the disciplinary settlement, the SFA stepped back from declaring Mr Norris, who is 41, to be not "fit and proper" to work in the securities business. After the ban, he will be able to reapply for registration with the SFA.

Yesterday's was the first successful disciplining of one of the former senior Barings' executives who were in charge when the bank crashed under nearly pounds 900m of unauthorised derivatives losses. Most of the other eight former executives who have been investigated are expected, however, to contest the watchdog's disciplinary findings.

Ron Baker, who was the direct boss of Nick Leeson, the imprisoned rogue trader who carried out the disastrous speculation, yesterday presented the SFA with a detailed rebuttal of its charges. Declaring himself determined to clear his name of the unjust criticisms, Mr Baker has opted to take the matter to the SFA tribunal. It is understood that the punishment proposed by the SFA for Mr Baker is similar to that agreed with Mr Norris.

Mr Baker's deputy in charge of the Barings derivatives business at the time of the crash, Mary Walz, is also believed to be contesting the SFA's findings before a tribunal. Five other former executives are facing penalties ranging from one- to three-year bans and fines of between pounds 5,000 and pounds 10,000.

Ian Hopkins, the former head of group treasury and risk, has taken the unusual course of refusing to comply with the SFA's disciplinary process. Mr Hopkins has told the SFA he does not intend to submit a defence to a tribunal on the grounds that it will be unable to reach a fair verdict.

Instead, Mr Hopkins has made a detailed submission to the Commons Treasury Select Committee, which will be holding hearings into the Barings collapse next Wednesday. However, Mr Hopkins is not among the four former Barings executives - Peter Baring, the chairman, Andrew Tuckey, the deputy chairman, Mr Norris, and Geoffrey Barnett, chief operating officer - who have been invited by the committee to appear before it.

The SFA said Mr Norris admitted he "failed to act with due skill, care and diligence" regarding the massive positions run up by Barings in its dealings between the Singapore and Japanese exchanges. He also failed to deal "with sufficient promptness and firmness" with a key clue that could have unmasked Leeson's dealings, a pounds 50m discrepancy uncovered by Barings' auditors in January 1995.

In determining the discipline for Mr Norris, the SFA said it had taken into account the fact that he had not previously been the subject of disciplinary action and had co-operated with the watchdog in its investigations.

In the detailed defence document handed yesterday to the SFA, Mr Baker's lawyers, Fox William, argued that he was being unjustly sanctioned for management failures outside of his responsibility. It pointed out that Mr Baker was in charge of Barings' house derivatives business and not the agency trading Mr Leeson was involved in. It also argues that he only took formal responsibility for Leeson in January 1995, while the fraud trading had been going on since 1992.

Regarding the costs of his defence, Mr Baker said: "In my own mind I have written off pounds 100,000 as a worst-case scenario, but it could even end up as more."

In March, the SFA formally cleared the two most senior former Barings executives, Peter Baring and Andrew Tuckey, of responsibility for the collapse of the 233-year-old bank.