LEADING ARTICLE:The trial of Nick Leeson

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The Independent Online
Singapore is hardly the ideal venue for a bank trader to play fast and loose with the rules. It certainly isn't somewhere to get caught. This week, Mr Nick Leeson and his wife Lisa pleaded publicly that he should, instead, face trial here.

This newspaper has published material which suggests that Mr Leeson, while running the Barings' derivatives trading operation in Singapore, shredded documents about his trading activities, lied to auditors, falsified reports to the Singapore exchange authorities, along with information in the Singapore computerised trading accounting system, and used at least one bogus account to "manufacture" fictitious profits. All of this is alleged to have taken place in Singapore, not Britain.

On the face of it, the obvious jurisdiction in which Mr Leeson should be brought to book is Singapore.

The counter-argument, advanced by Mrs Leeson and her husband's lawyers is that they have evidence of a crime over which the British authorities have jurisdiction, and they want the Serious Fraud Office to interview their client. The SFO has so far not made a convincing case for resisting this proposal; indeed, it is rather extraordinary that we should be on the point of receiving the Bank of England's report into the Barings collapse without Mr Leeson having been interviewed by anyone from the UK authorities.

It is not difficult to see why Mr Leeson prefers a trial on home ground; Singapore is not noted for its leniency. His lawyers are also arguing that a trial in Singapore would be unfair. They also point out that he was a British national working for a British bank. Yet other British employees of British companies are quite rightly tried abroad when they are charged with committing crimes abroad. He might say that the only victims of the alleged crimes were British shareholders of Barings; no one in Singapore lost money. True, but this is an argument for the losers giving evidence in Singapore, not for a British jury to hear the case.

Leeson is probably right when he suggests that some people in London would be embarrassed by a British trial, which would inevitably attract closer media attention. Evidence might be presented about incompetence and perhaps even negligence by some former Barings associates. The Bank of England might be placed in a less favourable light than will be the case in its own forthcoming report.

But until the SFO interviews Mr Leeson, it will not be possible for a fully informed decision to made about the case for his extradition to Britain. The SFO should get its officers on the plane to Frankfurt.

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