EXCLUSIVE – Barings trial date fixed

Coopers & Lybrand Singapore has been defeated in its bid to delay the £1bn trial into its role as auditor of Barings Bank, which was brought to its knees by trader Nick Leeson in 1995.

A trial date of February 2001 has now been fixed despite attempts by Coopers to have the hearing held over until later that year.

In papers setting out the skeleton argument for the case, lodged at the High Court and obtained by Accountancy Age, Michael Brindle QC, acting on behalf of Barings Futures Singapore, said the case could be ready for trial by late 2000.

Asking for a date of 27 November 2000 to be set, he said: ‘The only party in the Barings Futures Singapore action opposed to the trial in late 2000 is Coopers & Lybrand Singapore, who contend for October 2001. Delaying the trial until then is unacceptable.’

In the papers, Brindle, who acted earlier this year on behalf of the plaintiff during the record £68m Maxwell Communication Corporation vs Coopers & Lybrand case, said Barings first instituted its claim against Coopers in 1996 in Singapore.

‘The suggestion that the defendants need more than five years in which to deal with Barings’ claim is simply untenable,’ he argued.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers spokesman in London dismissed suggestions that the firm had tried to delay proceedings but admitted it had wanted a later date than February 2001.

Speaking to Accountancy Age, Brindle said the Woolf reforms to civil litigation procedures had helped the plaintiffs achieve an earlier date.

As a result of the reforms, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Evans-Lombe, will be involved with the case from January. Richard Field QC will act for Coopers & Lybrand Singapore.

Barings’ liquidator, Ernst & Young, declined to comment. Corporate recovery head Alan Bloom, who is leading the liquidation, is currently finalising its initial arguments and is expected to state its position later this month.

Rogue trader Nick Leeson has already spent several days with the liquidators to explain how he covered up his loss of £860m on the money markets. One source close to Leeson said he was also willing to meet PwC officials to explain how he perpetrated a fraud.

The inquiry by the Joint Disciplinary Scheme, the profession’s regulator, into Coopers and two of its partners will begin in November.

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