WITH Nick Leeson just weeks, or even days away from trial in Singapore, a moment of truth is fast approaching the two groups at the centre of the Barings collapse: the former management of the bank and the executives of the Singapore International Monetary Exchange (SIMEX). Will Leeson's evidence implicate his ex-bosses and perhaps give the Singapore authorities grounds to issue further charges, and force Britain to face up to agreeing to extradite executives? That could create severe embarrassment in Britain, given the authorities have ruled that no criminal proceedings were appropriate following the collapse of the country's oldest and most venerable bank. This is why Leeson was standing in Singapore's No 26 Subordinate Court last week, rather than looking forward to an appearance at the Old Bailey in London. The one man who Singapore's Commercial Affairs Division could handcuff at a moment's notice is James Bax, the former managing director of Barings Futures (Singapore) and the whole of the Southeast Asian network of Barings Securities. Mr Bax waits in Singapore. His passport is believed to have been confiscated, and he watches the judicial process grind on, wondering whether he will be the next target. Both Mr Bax, and chief executive officer of Baring International Bank in London, Peter Norris, have been severely criticised in official reports on the collapse, Mr Bax because he was the man on the spot, and Mr Norris for allegedly contributing to the cover-up and lack of action despite the huge demands for cash being made by Leeson in Singapore as his losses ballooned. The local press has already pointed out apparent offences against Singapore laws by both. Will Leeson also reveal further gaps in SIMEX' own systems which enabled him to run up US$1.4 billion of losses trading Nikkei 225 contracts on the exchange? So far, despite the scandal of being the home of one of the biggest financial collapses in history, SIMEX has escaped serious repercussions. However, there is no doubt that SIMEX was shaken to its core by the extent of Leeson's losses, and his ability to cover up his trades. Last week's charges against the former King of Simex chronicled an astonishing list of 'adjusted' - in effect fictitious - trades which were entered into Barings books. The exchange did not escape unscathed in the investigation into the affair carried out on the instructions of the Ministry of Finance by accountants Michael Lim Choo San and Nicky Tan Ng Kuang, completed in September. Astonishingly, in a city known for its rigid enforcement of rules, and over which the powerful Monetary Authority of Singapore watches with a glittering eye, it was apparent that SIMEX had not picked up on danger signals which should have been apparent. The inspectors recognised that Baring's management either ignored or were apathetic about early questions put to it by SIMEX, but say that the exchange did not follow up on them with urgency, and failed to inform the MAS of its concerns. Complacency is not one of Singapore's characteristics, and even before the report was completed SIMEX had set about checking its rules. It appointed a so-called Blue Ribbon committee of international experts to examine its systems and recommend changes. It also brought in Roger Rutz, former president and chief executive officer of the Board of Trade Clearing Corporation. His recommendations that 'stress-testing' of positions take place, and analysis of daily settlements and margin calls, as well as scrutiny of markets positions, were smartly implemented last month. This was part of a continuing programme of tightening up on controls, but SIMEX is anxious not to strangle its progress with too tight a regulatory burden, according to some observers. Considering the enormity of the losses, fall-out in Singapore appears to have been remarkably light. SIMEX was able to repay Barings $86 million in unused margin calls, its members did not have to cover any losses, and the target of becoming the unchallenged futures market in Asia, outside Japan, is still in sight. SIMEX was a pioneer from its launch in the mid-1980s when it forged a link with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, so that contracts are recognised in both markets. Last month it signed a letter of intent with the New York Mercantile Exchange, the world's biggest energy futures market, a move which could beef up Singapore's own energy futures market. In the first nine months of the year, total volumes were up 11.3 per cent. Even the Nikkei 225 Futures and Options contracts, where Leeson wreaked his havoc, showed gains in volume of 20.6 per cent and 42.2 per cent. To reassure existing and potential users of SIMEX's stability, the exchange for the first time published its profit figures recently. They showed that the exchange made a profit of S$78.9 million (about HK$431.58 million) in the first half of this year, a gain of $19.6 million over the same period in 1994. SIMEX's performance was achieved in the face of an industry-wide slump, according to chairman Elizabeth Sam, who likes to point out that other exchanges show that the industry shrunk this year, with some major exchanges showing double-digit falls. Times have not been too bad, either, for the former Barings business in Singapore. Last week was a particularly good one, and not because Nick Leeson, whose actions led to the bank being rescued by the Dutch Internationale Nederlanden Bank (ING), was finally in the dock. His appearance in court was a sideshow for ING Barings executives, who want the matter over and done with so that they can get on with business as usual. And that is what it was last week, according to managing director of ING Barings, Eugene Marais. 'Our figures show that our share of regional trade in Asia has gone above the pre-crash figure for the first time,' he said. 'Of course, that's not true of the whole of the year, but trade has come back extremely well.' He is resigned to the fact that some clients will be slow to come back, and some may never do so. These are the former holders of Barings bonds - mainly big British institutions, which have shown their distaste for the losses on their investments by boycotting Baring's dealers. The firm is even getting ready to get back into business on the floor of SIMEX. It will definitely not be quite like old times. Barings' name will not decorate the jackets worn by the traders in the pit, and none of the original team are still at their desks.