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How Express tracked down world's most wanted man
Published on: Tuesday, October 02, 2018
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How Express tracked down world's most wanted man
Kota Kinabalu: ASKED how Daily Express was able to track down the world's most wanted man to a room in the exclusive Shangrila Tanjung Aru Resort, James attributed it to an initial gut feeling he had that if anyone wanted to lie low for whatever reason, it had to be in Sabah."I discussed with our Crime Reporter then, Clifford Santa Maria, about this possibility. It was a wild guess and I asked someone I knew in the hotel whether anyone came close to the description and to tell us the room numbers that he may be staying.

"She refused citing hotel policy but did indicate that I might have some luck if I staked out at the hotel. That's what Clifford did and being a Crime Reporter, Clifford was surprised to bump into a high ranking Special Branch officer at the resort who even joked whether he (Clifford) was looking for Leeson.

"Eventually, through questioning of staff, we had some indication that we were on the right trail, short of knowing the exact room. We were told about a particular caucasian who always wore a hat and sunglasses and his female companion and kept to themselves.

"The only thing is that probably he (Leeson) might have been tipped off that the Daily Express had been inquiring about the identity of a British couple staying in Room 428 and decided to give everyone the slip," said James.

Leeson who brought down the 233-year-old Barings Bank in 1995 after $2.2 billion losses racked up by him while working in Singapore, had already boarded a flight from KK to Brunei (on March 1, 1995) the "moment we were convinced that he was, indeed, the one."

The flight was to Frankfurt with stops in Bangkok and Abu Dhabi. James recalled how he, as then Deputy Editor, frantically called Bangkok Airport officials around 11pm to get them to stop the flight to Frankfurt as Leeson might be on that flight.

"But they said it was not possible because it was just about to take off and that the request was coming from a newspaper and not the police. We felt very frustrated with the whole thing," he said.

So when the Daily Express published the story, he was already on the flight to Frankfurt. Interpol picked up the Daily Express report and had guards stationed at Frankfurt Airport, just in case.

When the plane landed the next day (March 2), German Police, tipped off by the Daily Express report boarded the plane and arrested him.

"We were interviewed by BBC, CNN…they could not believe that a small-time paper with limited resources was able to pull off a world scoop. This is what is possible in journalism if the timing is right and you have the talent and the resources, and a bit of luck."

James said although he achieved quite a number of memorable scoops in his career, the Leeson case was exceptional because "journalists can get scoops but Daily Express became the only Malaysian newspaper to ever achieve a world scoop".

"This was confirmed by both the Times of London and The Independent. Newspapers may not be able to get it in this day and age and it might even be the last great scoop by any newspaper in the world.

"Scoops are now happening in the social media and not in the print media. That's a shame." – Mary Chin

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