Leeson out of jail, pursued by media

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The Independent Online
NICK LEESON, the rogue trader who broke Barings Bank and fled Singapore when he knew the game was up, voluntarily prolonged his jail term there yesterday to avoid the even more terrifying prospect of facing journalists who had declined to pay for his story.

Told that reporters were massed outside the bleak Tanah Merah prison to await his release, due early yesterday, Leeson asked the authorities to keep him locked up until dark. He finally emerged from the jail less than an hour before his late-night flight to London, and was hustled through the airport by security guards. Asked whether he felt he was being given special treatment, he said: "Call this a privilege?"

Looking fit and much trimmer than before his arrest, he made his way through the airport with a fixed grin on his face. Was he looking forward to going back to England? "I'm looking forward to going to the gate."

British Airways took extraordinary measures to protect his privacy. All reporters on BA16 to London (excluding the person from the Daily Mail, which signed a deal for his story) were thrown out of the upper deck of business class. Rob Coldman, BA's regional sales manager, signed a letter to all passengers, warning them not to change seats "for security reasons" - no mention of who was on board.

Money remained very much on the mind yesterday of the man who single- handedly broke the merchant bank Barings. Now, outside jail, he risked jeopardising the deal whereby he would get reportedly a six-figure sum from the Mail.

His arrangements with the paper, however, have been thrown into question. On Friday, the liquidators, who are trying to recover money from the Barings debacle, got an injunction preventing Leeson from receiving any payment until the extent of his liability to the company's creditors is established. The Singaporean authorities, who arrested Leeson four years ago, promised his release would be followed by "normal" deportation procedures. Instead there was a day-long cat and mouse game, with the media on his tail.

Stephen Pollard, Leeson's lawyer, has proved himself an enthusiastic negotiator, working hard to sell his client's story and keep him away from the non-paying media. In a BBC television interview he said Leeson was apprehensive about his first 48 hours of freedom. Leeson has not given an account of his activities other than under controlled circumstances.

He has been treated, too, with scrupulous fairness in Singapore and given full remission for good behaviour, almost cutting his six and a half year sentence in half. Unlike many other prisoners released, Leeson had no relatives to greet him. His wife remarried during his time inside. His mother lost the battle against blood cancer, and his father, William, is now fighting the same disease.

Singapore's Business Times reported yesterday that Leeson will go to New York for medical treatment following his cancer of the colon which has been reported as in remission.

Mr Pollard insists Leeson is keen to return to work, although it is far from clear who would employ a man responsible for one of the most spectacular collapses in British corporate history. Leeson has tried to rebuild his reputation by presenting himself as a basically honest, if over-ambitious lad, trying to be a success in an upper-class world.

The process started when he was first arrested in Frankfurt and gave a self-promoting television interview to David Frost who then bought the film rights to his ghost-written biography. The result was the recently released film Rogue Trader, staring Ewan McGregor.

Leeson has consistently maintained that his massive gambles on Japanese stock market futures contracts were not made for personal profit but were a series of disastrous mistakes. However, his habit of boasting appears to have got him in further trouble: he was reported to have told fellow inmates that he managed to salt away some pounds 2m, a claim widely disbelieved in Singapore.

However, his reckless gambling on the Singapore futures market was clearly, in part, motivated by greed. Since traders like Leeson earn most of their money from bonuses, the gains he pretended to make were about to earn him pounds 450,000.

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