Picks and Pans Review: Rogue Trader
Nick Leeson needs a crash course in contrition. When you single-handedly bring down Britain's venerable Barings merchant bank through forgery and reckless trading on the Singapore International Monetary Exchange, as he did last year, you should offer more than a few mea culpas. Leeson spends not nearly enough time repenting and too much of it blaming an incompetent staff, distracted department heads and a fickle market.
What the book lacks in remorse, it makes up in narrative suspense. By day, Leeson makes enormous sums on the volatile derivatives market; by night, he toasts his gains in the posh watering holes of Singapore. Once some of his unhedged trades go south, however, Leeson's tale turns into the literary equivalent of a highspeed car chase: As Barings' losses pile up, he manages to stay a step ahead of the auditors, deftly concealing the shortfall in a secret account. His bosses, meanwhile, smell only the profits.
The Kobe earthquake in Japan in January 1995 was the coup de grace. The market continued to fall, and Leeson, unable to recoup the losses, fled to Malaysia. He is now serving a 6½-year prison sentence in Singapore, and, if justice has the last word, his dithering bosses will spend an equal amount of time finding work. (Little, Brown, $24.95)