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Leeson Pleads Guilty in Barings Collapse, Faces Up to 8 Years

December 1, 1995

SINGAPORE (AP) _ Former Barings trader Nick Leeson made one final deal today _ and this one traded on his own future.

The disgraced whiz kid accused of destroying Britain’s oldest bank in a bungled stock market scheme that cost $1.4 billion pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud. In exchange, prosecutors dropped nine other charges.

``The accused is found guilty on each of the two charges,″ Judge Richard Magnus said.

After final arguments by the prosecution and defense about how much time Leeson should spend in jail, Magnus adjourned the trial and said he would announce the sentence on Saturday.

Leeson faces a maximum of eight years in prison, although he could serve a much shorter term. With the nine other charges, he would have faced a maximum of 14 years.

Pleading for a light sentence, defense lawyer John Koh said, ``What he did was a cover-up of losses, not a cover-up of crimes. ... Our client is not a crook. ... He is extremely remorseful.″

Prosecutor Lawrence Ang asked for the other charges to ``be taken under consideration,″ which means they will be dropped. Asked by Magnus whether he agreed with Ang’s offer, Leeson calmly said, ``Of course, your honor.″

Ang also asked that Magnus, when issuing his sentence, consider the nine months that Leeson already spent in a German prison before being extradited to Singapore last week.

The 28-year-old Briton was arrested in March while trying to return to London after the 232-year-old Barings was declared bankrupt under the weight of debts he ran up gambling complex stock market deals called futures. Leeson managed Barings’ futures trading operation in Singapore.

Leeson was betting that Japan’s stock market would rise. When it instead fell after the Kobe earthquake, he doubled his bets in an attempt to recoup his losses. After he completely wiped out Barings’ cash reserves, Leeson fled Singapore on Feb. 23.

Koh said Leeson would pay prosecution costs equivalent to about $107,000. He presented a check for $77,100 dollars to the prosecutor, and said Leeson would pay the rest later.

The remnants of Barings were bought by the Dutch financial conglomerate ING.

Leeson appeared before Magnus today after pleading guilty in another courtroom to one count each of fraud and forgery with intent to defraud.

Leeson was accused of forging documents and deceiving Barings and the Singapore International Monetary Exchange in a bid to make them believe that he had enough money to cover his losses.

On the fraud charge, he could face seven years in prison for misreporting details about the status of $460 million in Barings contracts on Feb. 1. That meant the Singapore exchange, known as SIMEX, released some $115 million to Barings that it shouldn’t have.

He also could be sentenced to a year in prison for leading the auditing firm Coopers & Lybrand to believe Barings had received $78 million from the New York firm Spear, Leeds and Kellogg in February. He was accused of forgery, but the charge was changed in order to reduce the penalty.

The final sentence will depend on whether the sentences are served consecutively or concurrently.

Leeson, wearing a white shirt, dark trousers and a necktie, appeared calm. His wife, Lisa, returned to Britain on Thursday.

Although Leeson faces most of the blame for the debacle, a Singapore government inquiry also has implicated top Barings executives. No charges have been filed against them.

During his first week in captivity in Singapore, Leeson was interrogated regularly by fraud investigators. It is likely he told them about other Barings executives’ roles in the financial scandal.

The Singapore investigation, by auditors Price Waterhouse, said other Barings executives ignored warning signs, continued to provide Leeson with more money for his losing bets and later tried to cover up his losses.

Update hourly