Speculation grows over Leeson trial deal

JOHN EISENHAMMER

Financial Editor

Nick Leeson's lawyer in Singapore, John Koh, met fraud investigators there amid mounting speculation yesterday that the former trader is seeking a deal. Mr Koh refused to discuss details of his discussions with the Commercial Affairs Department, the investigative arm of the Finance Ministry, but said: "We have been evaluating all the various defence options open to us."

The CAD has launched a full-scale investigation into a number of former top Barings' executives accused of covering-up a key warning sign that might have prevented the collapse of the merchant bank.

The CAD has interviewed James Bax and Simon Jones, formerly the two most senior Barings' executives in Singapore, and is keen to talk to Peter Norris, the London-based former chief executive. In a damning report by the Singapore authorities into the demise of Barings, both Mr Norris and Mr Bax were accused of involvement in the cover-up and of lying to the investigators.

Lawrence Ang, director of the CAD, opened the door to a deal with Mr Leeson during his announcement on Wednesday that the investigation is to be widened to a handful of other executives. "We will see what he has to offer," he said. Mr Leeson appears to be increasingly resigned to facing trial in Singapore, although he has appealed against the decision of a German court to approve his extradition.

After the Singapore authorities' report earlier this week, which broadened the blame for the bank's demise to, notably, Mr Norris and Mr Bax, the British lawyer representing Mr Leeson, Stephen Pollard, said his client is now likely to get a fairer hearing in Singapore.

Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England, yesterday declared the Singapore findings on Barings to be consistent with the Bank's own inquiry, while admitting he had not read the report. Mr George, speaking in Kuala Lumpur, during a goodwill tour of Asian financial centres - Singapore is not on the itinerary - said: "Based on press accounts I can say that it is consistent with our findings.'' Both had identified a single trader's unauthorised dealings and a failure of management controls as the main reasons for the Barings collapse.

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