You are here

1995: Nick Leeson brings down Barings

Tycoons' battle for Yeo Hiap Seng, launch of exec condos also lead the news.

BT_20160516_1995BT40_22815888.jpg

Nick Leeson and the collapse of Barings gave Singapore and the term "Rogue Trader" a permanent place in the global history of corporate mishaps.

Leeson, a Singapore-based derivatives trader, singlehandedly brought down Britain's oldest bank in 1995 by making bets on the Japanese stock market and government bonds, and hiding the massive losses when those bets went south. It was estimated at the time that he had losses amounting to US$1.6 billion.

The scale of those losses surprised the bank and regulators, who failed to cobble together a rescue for Barings. The bank went bust a few days later.

Just before the full scale of his activities came to light, Leeson fled Singapore, leaving only a note on his desk that read "I'm sorry" and sending a fax to his bosses while he was in Malaysia to express his "sincere apologies".

After a global manhunt that lasted for about a week, Leeson eventually turned himself in to authorities in Frankfurt. He was later extradited to Singapore, where he was sentenced to six and a half years of prison for cheating and forgery. Earning release after serving four years, Leeson returned to Britain.

It was a saga that captured the world's attention and even spawned a book and a movie in later years.

On home ground, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong unveiled the Executive Condominium and Selective Enbloc Redevelopment schemes to meet growing demand for private property from young graduates and to give housing board flat owners higher returns on their properties.

On the corporate front, a clash of titans was taking place with tycoons Ng Teng Fong and Quek Leng Chan duelling for control of the venerable drinks maker Yeo Hiap Seng. Mr Ng emerged the victor after an 11-week tug of war with a bid of S$5.35 per share, which was too good for even Mr Quek to pass up.

The Business Times has been there to report and analyse the most significant news since 1976. Every week, this feature will showcase excerpts from the biggest stories for each year that the paper has been in operation. The full text of all the stories can be found online at bt.sg/bt_40