I did wrong, says rogue trader Leeson

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The Independent Online
CONVICTED FRAUDSTER Nick Leeson arrived back in London yesterday to apologise publicly for his crime after being released from jail in Singapore.

The man who lost pounds 850m and broke Barings, Britain's oldest bank, said on arrival at Heathrow airport: "I want to state clearly here that I know I did wrong. I am not proud of my activities as a trader with Barings Bank in Singapore. I was foolish and very much regret what happened."

But immediately after making his statement, Leeson, 32, left to sell the story of the crime he says he is so ashamed of, to the Daily Mail newspaper for a reputed pounds 100,000. The deal has been widely criticised and the Press Complaints Commission has stated that it will investigate any complaint it receives over the payment of money to a convicted criminal.

Ernst & Young, the liquidators of Barings, has also obtained an injunction freezing Leeson's assets, including the fee from the Mail and around pounds 450,000 he received from the film rights of his book of his downfall, Rogue Trader. The court order allows him pounds 5,000 a month to cover living expenses and medical and legal costs.

In the mounting controversy over Leeson, a group of bondholders who lost their savings in the Barings collapse are pressing for a private prosecution to be brought against him. Pam Murray, of the solicitors SJ Berwin and Co, said there was "strong support among a number of bondholders" for such an action. However, the firm acknowledged that a court case was unlikely to recover the money owed.

Simon Forster, spokesman for the Barings preference shareholders, spoke of the hardship of those who had lost "everything" with the collapse of the bank. He said: "Some of those investors are elderly, they are widows, widowers, who invested part or a very substantial amount of their life savings in what was reputedly an organisation as safe as the Bank of England."

Jill Frankel, 67, a retired teacher, and her 73-year-old husband, Leslie, of north London, are among the losers. Mrs Frankel said: "We were absolutely horrified when we found out what had happened. I have never felt that bitter towards Nick Leeson, although it was not a very decent thing that he did. I have neither seen the film nor read the book... I do not approve of criminals making money out of their misdeeds."

Leeson's solicitor, Stephen Pollard, defended his client, saying he was the only one who had been imprisoned for his part in the affair. Others, more senior, were either unaffected, or only suffered "inconvenience" in their business life, he said.

In December 1995, Leeson was sentenced to six-and-a-half years for fraud. He had been taking massive bets on derivatives contracts, concealing his losses in a secret account. Eventually, they wiped out the bank.

Mr Pollard strongly denied reports that Leeson had pounds 2m salted away and said he would be "astonished" if Leeson now faced a fresh trial in Britain. Leeson received treatment for cancer of the colon while in jail and Mr Pollard says there is a 30 per cent chance of it recurring in the next five years.

Financial regulators said yesterday that Leeson could be considered for a trading licence in Britain if he applied for one. The Financial Services Authority said there would be no restriction, because he committed his crime abroad.

Leeson's return, page 5