Barings. Nick Leeson – villain or victim

The case against, by John Woods, a consultant at Denton Hall and former director of the Serious Fraud Office

In a speech to a seminar in Cambridge recently, the director of the Serious Fraud Office commented ruefully that the SFO had received more column inches in the newspapers than most others, testifying, perhaps to the ever-increasing interest in fraud not only among lawyers and City professionals but members of the public as well. A sensational fraud case will generate as much interest as most cases involving violence and the Leeson case is no exception.

To the public it seems inconceivable that a trader could, single handed, lose millions and bring one of the UK's most prestigious institutions to its knees. The words 'single handed' are important because there are many who refuse to believe Leeson was acting on his own and maintain that, at the very least, a Nelsonian eye was turned to his trading activities in exchange for massive profits.

This factor has been at the forefront of the campaign to have Leeson tried in this country rather than Singapore, culminating in the recent Frost television interview. The objective was to portray Leeson as an ordinary young man overtaken by events which spiralled out of control and to counter public perceptions of him as a brash trader who closed his mind to everything except the making of money.

In that respect, the interview may be perceived as a success, but it has to be said that Leeson was indeed fortunate that Frost was in an uncharacteristically subdued mood and seemed to shy away from asking the obvious and, perhaps devastating follow-up questions.

Leeson's solicitor has said the SFO has a hidden agenda and that there are political reasons why no application has been made for his extradition.

It must be emphasised that jurisdiction in common law countries, basically, is territorial and there can be no doubt that the alleged fraud was committed in Singapore. The Commercial Crime Unit there has a good reputation for the competence and fairness of its investigations and, although others may not agree, my experience of Singapore is such that Leeson can expect a fair trial there. It also has to be remembered that Singapore put in its extradition application with commendable dispatch and would be entitled to feel resentment were another country to try to play leap frog and seek extradition notwithstanding the proper venue of the offence.