We want staff's bonuses, say Barings noteholders

JDirectors and staff of Barings may be asked to return some of their multi-million-pound bonuses because they were based on fictitious profits.

The Barings 9.25 per cent Perpetual Noteholders' Action Group (BPNAG), which is urging legal action against some former Barings executives, is also considering suing the Bank of England for statutory breach of duty.

BPNAG was formed by theholders of pounds 100m of Barings loan notes after the bank crashed this spring. When ING rescued the bank in May, just pounds 5m was set aside to pay off their notes.

Jonathan Stone, the chairman of BPNAG, said yesterday that his group had asked Barings' administrators, Ernst & Young, to investigate whether a claim over the bonuses could be launched.

Barings paid its staff total bonuses of over pounds 200m in the past three years. More than pounds 100m was paid last year, although Nick Leeson's undisclosed losses would have wiped out most of Barings' profits.

A spokesman for Ernst & Young confirmed that the administrators were investigating all possible claims that might swell the pot for creditors.

But he stressed that "these are very early days". No firm decision on who, if anyone, should be sued would be taken for some months, he added.

More dramatic still is Mr Stone's suggestion that the noteholders may have a basis for suing the Bank of England. No legal advice has yet been sought, he said, but there are preliminary grounds for believing there is a case.

When the loan notes were issued in 1994, the Bank had already allowed Barings to breach the rule banning banks from exporting more than 25 per cent of their capital to subsidiaries abroad without permission.

"This breach was not contained in the memorandum for the notes," said Mr Stone. If it had, he added, potential investors would have been well advised to "run a mile".

"I believe Eddie George [Governor of the Bank of England] and Brian Quinn [executive director in charge of banking supervision] should find a finely polished sword and fall upon it," he concluded.