Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Funny how things work out: Leeson and poetic justice

I'm delighted with the way things have worked out for Nick Leeson (so far).

He’s chief executive of Galway United Football Club.

What do you mean you’ve never heard of them? They were runners up in the Irish League in 1985-1986.

But in 1995, Leeson’s name was known around the world. He had displayed a certain carelessness with money that had cost his employer, Baring’s Bank, £827 million and then its existence. Baring’s, the biggest investment bank in Britain, had lasted nearly two and half centuries. It took Leeson little more than two and a half years to finish it off.

He did spend some time inside, and not just anywhere: he was in Changi gaol in Singapore, once made notorious for the mistreatment of Commonwealth prisoners of war interned there by the Japanese.

It’s easy to imagine the dreariness and thanklessness of his existence. Even so, it must be preferable to his time in prison.

According to tradition, Attila the Hun died of what would have to be called the mother of all nose bleeds: a massive internal haemorrhage. The man who had drowned nations in blood ultimately drowned in his own. Many delighted in the scourge of God being struck down by God, or perhaps by the gods, depending on theological preference.

Attila was a bloodthirsty warrior and Leeson was a derivatives trader. Attila wiped people out, Leeson wiped out their probably ill-gotten gains. Attila’s weapon was the sword, violent, simple, chillingly comprehensible. Leeson’s was a series of financial instruments, where even the word ‘instrument’ is pretty obscure (I like to think of him as a financial sousaphone player) and certainly they caused no-one’s death (or at least not directly).

Attila drowned in blood. Leeson vegetates in Galway. There are times when there seems to be measure and justice in the universe after all.

1 comment:

Mark Reynolds said...

Hey! No need to drag the poor sousaphone into this! If you must associate any part of the orchestra with financial malfeasance, let it be the viola: it's well known as the fraudster's fiddle.