Singapore `will look for a scapegoat'

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The Independent Online
Bankers in the Far East last night said that if the Singapore authorities could not focus total blame for the collapse of Barings, the investment bank, on its own management, it would look for another scapegoat.

The warning comes as it began to emerge that officials from the Bank of England, sent to conduct inquiries in Singapore, have become frustrated by the lack of co-operation from their counterparts in the island state.

Traders say Singapore prides itself on running clean and well-regulated markets, cracking down hard on all infringements of the rules. Above all, the government is now keen to find a number of suspects to place in the dock so that blame for the whole Barings fiasco can be laid at the door of someone, preferably not a Singaporean.

"They're baying for blood," said one investment banker. "They're livid that all this happened in Singapore and they want someone to carry the can. If they can't have Leeson you can bet they'll make do with someone else."

Another added: "This is absolutely typical. All they want to do is find some foreigners to be the scapegoats for their cock-ups." Not all the blame lay with the regulatory authorities but they would duck such responsibility as should be apportioned to them.

On Saturday, officials from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, which acts as the central bank, the Singapore International Monetary Exchange and the stock exchange held a press conference to stress that their regulatory system had not been at fault. The blame, they said, lay squarely with Barings' management in London.

It is understood that Simex, the futures exchange, says it was aware of the large positions taken by Barings in the Nikkei-225 contracts but decided not to act when it received assurances from the company in January and February that it was able to meet all margin calls.

Simex and MAS officials are, however, silent on the subject of whether any effort was made to discover whether the deals were proprietary - made by Barings on its own behalf - or made for genuine clients. Simex has a monitoring system supposed to identify orders that are in any way questionable.

An executive from a Simex member company said: "Everyone knew that Barings was badly exposed in the market but the last thing any of us would have done is to call up the MAS for a friendly chat."

He explained that MAS officials were remote and often arrogant, had little contact with the market on an informal basis and were therefore unlikely to pick up market rumours.