Inside rogue traders jail hell and final deal that would have cost his life

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The "original rogue trader" Nick Leeson has spoken out about his time in incarceration, his suicide attempt, and destroying a 233-year-old bank.

Leeson served four years in prison for fraud after bankrupting London-based Barings Bank back in 1995 by hiding $1.3 billion in debt he accumulated as a derivatives trader in Singapore.

During an interview with CNN, the author of "Rogue Trader: How I Brought Down Barings Bank and Shook the Financial World," recalled his time spent in a maximum-security prison in Germany.

Thrown in with Yugoslav gunrunners, Bolivian drug lords and sex offenders, he said: "That was the one time I contemplated suicide. I wouldn't have been able to do it myself though.

"But there were these two Italian boys. One of them was an ice cream vendor, Luigi, and another well-dressed man, Salvatore. They were connected.

"It would have cost me £10,000 ($15,268) I think. I presumed it would happen in the showers one day, someone would just knife me."

As the Watford-born Leeson went from high-flying trader to convicted fraudster, spending three and a half years in a gang-ridden Singapore prison. He has now joined GDP Partnership, an Irish restructuring firm.

"The press were saying I could spend up to 84 years in prison, you don't have to be an MIT mathematician to work out I was gonna be dead.

"I spoke to my wife and father about it [suicide]," he said, explaining that they would have to negotiate the assisted suicide on his behalf from outside prison.

"Obviously they cried but you have to deal with the reality of the situation."

More than 25 years on, having weathered incarceration, faced divorce and colon cancer, the "original rogue trader" is now a regular public speaker and lecturer. He also runs his own website and social media accounts.

When asked if he would press a magic button to take it all back, Leeson told CNN: "There is no such button."

Describing himself as a "realist," it may be hard to understand how he could have lost $1.3 billion, destroying a 233-year-old bank in the process. It's even harder to understand why he thought he could hide it away in a secret account known as the "five eights".

After leaving his desk and fleeing with his wife to Kuala Lumpur, Leeson resurfaced days later and was arrested in Frankfurt at the age of 28. Imprisoned and awaiting deportation to Singapore, Leeson started to reflect and accept responsibility for his actions.

"Prison was tough," said Leeson, who now found himself mixing with dangerous criminals from the Chinese and Malaysian underworld.

"You're locked up in a cell for 23 hours a day with two other people. You wake up at 6 am in the morning and it's a hundred degrees outside. You get three books a month. So there's not much to occupy your mind."

At the time, Leeson said he received messages of support to keep him sane, including nude photographs from air hostesses. "I never got the naked pictures, I just got the letter," he joked.

"They would turn the lights on at night and turn them off in the day. There were no windows and there was a hole that they put your food through.

"I used to walk up and down 780 times in the cell and that was an hour. That's how I passed time. You start singing to yourself." Leeson chuckled.

After his release from solitary confinement, Leeson was diagnosed with colon cancer. "I had an emergency operation to remove a tumour in my stomach that was 9cm by 5cm. It was big."

Leeson was released in 1999, aged 32. Broke, and with no job prospects, he returned to the UK, where he continued cancer treatment.

He sold his story for a six-figure sum to the Daily Mail, wrote a book and had a film made about his time at Barings called "Rogue Trader" starring Ewan McGregor.

But "I've never seen a penny of it," he said.

Barings' liquidators had served Leeson with an injunction of £100 million and took 50% of proceeds from his story.

"I asked them 'if I got a job flipping burgers, how much would you want?' and they told me 'half'."

Now 54, Leeson lives a quiet life in Barna, Co Galway, Ireland.

Asked if a rogue trader will ever bring down a bank again, Leeson confidently replied: "No doubt about it. If you ask anyone in the banking industry, they will say 'yes, but it won't be me.'"

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  • Crime
  • Cancer
  • London
  • Money

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