Given the rough ride that Barclays Bank has had in the past month over CEO Jes Staley’s fines and public smackdown for trying to out a whistleblower, the bank may have relished some good news this week when a U.K. court threw out criminal charges relating to its decade-old fundraising deals in Qatar.
On 21 May a U.K. Crown Court dismissed charges of unlawful financial assistance and fraud against Barclays Bank and its parent company, Barclays PLC, over the nature of the bank’s deals with a group of Qatari investors to bail it out of trouble and keep it out of U.K. government control at the height of the financial crisis.
During two emergency fundraisings in 2008, Barclays raised a total of £11.8bn with a group of Qatari investors—in return for a U.S. $3 billion loan, which the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) considers illegal.
The charges against Barclays were the first criminal charges to be brought in the United Kingdom against a bank for activities during the financial crisis.
Some lawyers suggest that the court’s decision to drop the case is a major setback for the SFO, which is trying hard to bolster a tougher image.
Andrew Katzen, a partner at law firm Hickman and Rose, says that “the SFO’s most high-profile corruption prosecution has fallen at the first hurdle” and adds that “the ruling makes for an inauspicious start for the prosecutor as it awaits its new director.”
David Green stepped down as director of the SFO last month, and the organisation’s chief operating officer, Mark Thompson, has been appointed interim head.
Barclays is not, however, out of the woods just yet. The bank believes that the SFO is likely to seek to reinstate these charges by applying to a High Court Judge to re-commence proceedings via a new indictment of the same charges.
The SFO said in a statement: “We are considering our position in respect of today’s ruling concerning the companies.”
Furthermore, the charges made by the SFO against the individuals—the former Chief Executive John Varley and other top executives Roger Jenkins, Thomas Kalaris, and Richard Boath—still stand and proceedings remain live in their cases.
In a statement, Barclays says: “The dismissals do not and should not be taken to indicate any finding on the issue of whether a criminal offence has or may have been committed by other persons.”
And although the crown court may have thrown out the charges, regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are still pressing ahead with their own investigations into the bank’s dealings. The United Kingdom’s financial watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has issued warning notices in connection with its investigation into the advisory services agreements, but has stayed its investigation until the SFO’s proceedings are complete.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are conducting their own investigations regarding its capital raising, and the bank is defending a civil claim brought by investment firms PCP Capital Partners and PCP International Finance, which put together a parallel Abu Dhabi investment in Barclays’ second fundraising.
PCP contends that its deal was “fraudulently misrepresented” due to the bank’s US $3 billion side deals and loan with Qatar’s ministry of economy and finance and is seeking additional fee income. The bank is fighting PCP’s claim.