Leeson’s lesson as jail, illness and divorce were heavy price
The guest speaker at the Your Money Direct Awards held in London on Thursday 12th July was ‘rogue trader’ Nick Leeson, the currency dealer based in Singapore who brought down Barings Bank with his massive losses in the foreign currency markets.
Leeson admitted that he had done wrong, but said that he’d never intended for the situation to get so out of hand. His losses spiralled to £860m, but were hidden in his secret ‘88888 account’ for the best part of three years as his London-based bosses at Barings – one of the Queen’s banks – were unaware of the problem.
He maintained that they did not understand what he was doing and that compliance to the rules was practically non-existent.
When the losses were finally revealed, Leeson left a note in his office saying ‘Sorry’ and fled with his wife to a luxury resort in Malaysia. He noted with some irony that his wife wanted, before they left, to return some overdue videos to the hire shop as they would be fined if they were late back.
The authorities finally caught up with him at Frankfurt Airport and he was sent back to Singapore, where he served four-and-half years in prison, sharing a cell with two Triad gangsters, who, he said, left him alone but fought each other regularly.
It was at this time that he contracted cancer of the colon and his wife divorced him. On release from jail his luck changed after an interview by David Frost led to a film being made of his experiences.
He now lives in Ireland, working for Galway United Football Club, and earns extra money by speaking on the after-dinner circuit. Although some people in the Your Money awards audience felt it was wrong that we should pay for a ‘convicted criminal’ to recount his experiences, Leeson never once glamorised his story and showed genuine remorse for his actions, along with an element of disbelief that he got away with it for so long.
The audience left the event divided as to whether he was a good guy or a bad guy, but one thing everyone agreed on was that he has a fascinating story to tell.
One of his friends said of him: “He’s the only man I know who wrote a cheque and the bank bounced”, a humorous comment with enough dark undertones to it to sum up the man who brought down the City’s oldest and some say most prestigious bank.