Leeson's assets frozen by High Court

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AN INJUNCTION was obtained yesterday to freeze the assets of the convicted Barings trader Nick Leeson, who had planned to sell his story to the Daily Mail upon release from prison in Singapore.

Leeson, whose fraudulent and disastrous deals broke Britain's oldest merchant bank with debts of pounds 860m, was due to receive about pounds 100,000 from the tabloid. The move had caused controversy with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) saying it would investigate if complaints were made against the Mail for paying money to a convicted criminal.

The injunction at the High Court in London was taken out on behalf of creditors of Barings by the accountants Ernst & Young. As well as money from the Mail, the action dealt with about pounds 450,000 Leeson is reported to have made from the recently released film, Rogue Trader, starring Ewan McGregor. That money is said to have gone towards his legal fees.

There have also been allegations from one of Leeson's fellow inmates at Tanah Mera prison in Singapore that he had salted away more than pounds 2m, and an announcement by liquidators in Singapore that they intend to look into the matter.

Four groups of Barings creditors are claiming almost pounds 450m, out of which about pounds 100m has been settled. Under the terms of the Ernst & Young injunction, Leeson will be allowed to draw out money for his legal costs and expenses for the treatment of cancer.

The last day the former Barings trader served of his jail sentence came amid tales of the hidden pounds 2m, and how he had got himself a job in jail managing the accounts. There were also conflicting reports over the state of his recovery from cancer.

Accounts of hidden millions and control of prison funds were dismissed yesterday by some former colleagues as fanciful and probably engineered by 32-year-old Leeson himself. They claimed he was a "compulsive liar" who now appeared to be desperate to show that he was ingenious enough to beat the system, and at the same time raise his market value.

The Daily Mail's deal with Leeson led the Solicitor General, Ross Cranston, to say in the Commons that payment to a convicted criminal appeared to be an " appropriate" case for investigation by the PCC.

Yesterday, a Mail executive said: "We're saying nothing" about the matter. The newspaper is said to be attempting to circumvent the PCC code by putting the fees towards cancer treatment Leeson will need in the future.

Asked whether paying Leeson's medical expenses would avoid a PCC censure, a spokesman said: "The purpose of the code of practice is to stop people benefiting. I don't think there is a way around the code but we would have to see the details. In any case no action can be taken until the article is published."

There were conflicting accounts of Leeson's health. Geraldine Tan of the Singapore prison department stated: "At his last medical check-up on 23 June doctors assessed the cancer to be in complete clinical remission." But his solicitors, the London firm Kingsley Napley, said that in August 1998 he had an emergency operation to remove a tumour and had since had six months of chemotherapy. He has been told that he has a 70 per cent chance of living for five years. According to people who have seen him recently, most of his hair has now gone and his weight has plummeted.

Leeson's solicitor, Stephen Pollard, dismissed suggestions that Leeson had pounds 2m salted away. The allegation first came from a fellow inmate, Abdul Amin, who said the former trader boasted about it. Subsequently, the Singapore law firm Rajah and Tann, representing liquidators for the now-defunct Barings Futures Singapore, said it would investigate whether such a hidden fund existed.

Singapore prison authorities also dismissed reports that Leeson had been " in charge of the accounts" at Tanah Merah jail. They said the former trader was looking after books covering only prisoners' pocket money at the workshop.

Leeson has served two-thirds of a six-and-a-half-year term and obtained early release for good behaviour. He will be deported and is expected to fly to London and make a statement at Heathrow airport early tomorrow morning.

His wife, Lisa, divorced him in 1997. She is said to have begun proceedings after reading his book and seeing "how far he had hidden things from her". She has since remarried.