Silver screen beckons for jailbird Leeson
Stephen Fay on a film about the man who broke Barings
Sunday 29 June 1997
This is the sum the administrators, Ernst & Young, have long suspected Leeson salted away. Leeson has always denied that he gained personally from the pounds 869m collapse of Barings.
The news of Leeson comes from the man who might be able to make him some money - James Deardon, the Englishman who wrote the script for the Hollywood hit Fatal Attraction. He is to make a film of Rogue Trader, Leeson's own account of the affair.
Mr Deardon, who has also written the script, visited Leeson at Tanah Merah jail in Singapore, where, if he gets remission, he has two more years of his six-and-a-half-year sentence to serve. Euan McGregor, the star of Trainspotting, has already been cast as Leeson.
Apart from Leeson's wife, Lisa, and the British consul in Singapore, Mr Deardon is the only outsider Leeson has spoken to since he went to jail in December 1995.
He reports that, having lost a lot of weight, Leeson looks "lean and mean". He complains that his cell, which he shares with two other prisoners, is "the size of a broom cupboard", but he finds the local diet "OK". He has learned some Malay from fellow prisoners, and he is bored. "It's not a happy place and he's not a happy man. He's surviving," says Mr Deardon, "but he's certainly paying his dues."
His loneliness is compounded by the fact that his wife, Lisa, is finding it difficult to get to Singapore as often as she would like. Working as a steward on Virgin Airways doesn't pay enough for her to meet the cost of travel to Singapore for each monthly visit Leeson is permitted.
Mr Deardon talked to Leeson for 20 minutes in an interview room crowded with the families of other prisoners: "It was pretty gruesome," he says. He had expected the meeting to take place in a private room, but Leeson is granted no privileges in Tanah Merah. "No one can appear to give him special favours because of who he is," says Mr Deardon.
Leeson had to wait three months for a new pair of trainers, and the covers of four hard-back crime novels Mr Deardon had brought for him were torn off in case they were used as offensive weapons.
Leeson, who is the only European English-speaker in the jail, does not talk about his role in Barings' collapse, and is still subject to occasional interviews by the Singapore Fraud Squad, although Mr Deardon's impression is that they have, reluctantly, come to believe Leeson's story.
Mr Deardon wants to make the movie because he is drawn to people who get caught up in events that spiral out of control. "I believe in the cock-up theory. I don't think he set out to defraud the bank," he said. "He put his toe in the water and ended up 50 feet under."
Mr Deardon rejects suggestions that the film will make Leeson's life more comfortable after his release. The film, which is being made by a company involving Sir David Frost, who bought the book rights for a modest sum, would be expected to make profits of pounds 3m on a budget of pounds 10.5m if it were a success.
Mr Deardon comments: "People don't make money out of a movie unless it's a mega-hit. It could make pounds 3m or lose pounds 3m, but Leeson's percentage would be minuscule." Mr Deardon adds: "I came away feeling quite sorry for him."
Back in London, 11 former employees of Barings who were bamboozled by Leeson have been told by the Department of Trade and Industry that they may be listed as unfit to be company directors. They feel no pity at all.
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