Leeson charges are invalid, lawyers argue

FROM STEVE CRAWSHAW

in Frankfurt

Lawyers for Nick Leeson, the futures trader who brought down Barings bank, argued yesterday that their client should be released from a Frankfurt jail on bail for lack of valid charges against him.

But a court in Frankfurt rebuffed their appeal. The court announced that the extradition custody will be prolonged, pending further examination of the extradition request submitted last month by Singapore.

Mr Leeson's German and British lawyers held a joint press conference in Frankfurt at which they laid out their objections to Singapore's 800- page extradition request, and explained their reasons for requesting bail.

Eberhard Kempf and Stephen Pollard argued that the 12 charges - four of forgery, and eight of cheating - are not backed up by evidence, in the official extradition request, or do not count as extraditable under German law. In addition, they argued that, since the German court authorities have not yet officially translated the entire Singaporean document from English into German, there can be no authority for extending the custody.

The lawyers also argued that photocopying a signature, as opposed to the forging of a signature, is not prosecutable under German law. The allegation that Mr Leeson used an unauthorised, copied signature for an audit confirmation letter is at the heart of the extradition case against him. But Mr Kempf insisted yesterday: "Under German law, a document forgery has not taken place."

Leeson is blamed for causing the collapse of Barings after running up pounds 900m of losses. His lawyers insist, however, that if Mr Leeson goes on trial in Singapore the wider implications will be swept under the carpet. According to Mr Pollard, "Singapore wants a small self-contained trial that can avoid all the difficult questions, and can enable them to dispose of Mr Leeson quickly and quietly ... The last thing the Singaporeans want is a big trial that identifies the weaknesses of Simex [the Singaporean exchange]."

The defence team insists that Mr Leeson is ready to co-operate fully with the British authorities, if only the British would seek extradition - which they have so far shown little inclination to do. Mr Pollard said any investigation in Britain about the wider implications of the Barings collapse would be useless without the co-operation of the character at the centre of the drama: "Only Leeson knows the exact role played by Barings' management.''

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