Senior Barclays bankers charged with fraud over credit crunch fundraising

Bank, ex-chief executive and three others accused, marking first time any top bankers have faced charges over financial crisis.

Four former Barclays executives could face lengthy jail sentences after the Serious Fraud Office charged them and the bank with fraud over the way Barclays raised billions of pounds from Qatar at the height of the financial crisis.

The SFO charged former Barclays chief executive John Varley and three former colleagues – Roger Jenkins, Tom Kalaris and Richard Boath – with offences after a five-year investigation into the events surrounding the £11.8bn emergency fundraising conducted by the bankin 2008.

This is the first time criminal action has been taken against any senior bankers for events dating to the 2008 financial crisis. At the time, Barclays raised billions of pounds from Qatar in a move that allowed the bank to avoid taking a taxpayer bailout.

The SFO said the charges related to the two fundraisings the bank embarked on in June and October 2008 with two investment vehicles related to Qatar, including one used by the prime minister at the time, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, and a $3bn (£2.3bn) loan advanced to Qatar in November 2008.

The individuals and a bank representative are scheduled to appear at Westminster magistrates court on 3 July. Jenkins and Boath said they would contest the charges; there has not been any comment from Varley and Kalaris.

The decision has been postponed on a number of occasions, initially to the end of March, then the end of May and then to mid-June, and comes as the SFO faces abolition under plans set out in the Conservative election manifesto.

“This is the most significant charging decision for the SFO in recent times, if not ever,” said Sarah Wallace, a partner and head of regulatory and criminal investigations at law firm Irwin Mitchell. “In the past few years, Barclays faced an unprecedented number of investigations by worldwide regulators but this SFO criminal prosecution is the most serious.

“Taking on Barclays, one of the largest banks in the world, and its most senior officials who literally were at the very top, sends a very strong message that the SFO is now fearless in terms of the companies and individuals it pursues.”

The four and the bank are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation in relation to a fundraising in June 2008. If convicted these offences carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a fine for the bank.

Varley, Jenkins and the bank are also charged with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation in relation to the fundraising that took place in October 2008. Technically this also carries a maximum 10-year jail term. Varley, Jenkins and the bank face a further charge of providing unlawful financial assistance through the loan, which carries a jail term of up to two years or a fine, or both.

Barclays said it was considering its position in relation to these developments and awaiting further details of the charges.

Jenkins, who left Barclays in 2009, was known as the executive who was paid £40m a year and credited with finding the Middle Eastern investors who poured billions into the bank at the height of the crisis. The Briton, who is now based in Malibu, California, said through his lawyer he would defend himself.

“As one might expect in the challenging circumstances of 2008, Mr Jenkins sought and received both internal and external legal advice on each and every topic covered by the SFO’s accusations,” Brad Kaufman, of law firm Greenberg Traurig, told Reuters.

Varley was chief executive of Barclays until the end of 2010. Kalaris, a London-based US citizen, ran the wealth management arm of Barclays. They did not immediately comment, although Varley resigned as a director of Rio Tinto just after the charges were revealed. He had been on the board fo the mining group for 6 years. In a statement, Rio chairman’s, Jan du Plessis, said: “The board holds him in the highest regard and will miss his valuable insight.”

Boath is the former head of the bank’s European financial institutions group and has brought an employment tribunal claim against Barclays alleging he was unfairly dismissed when the SFO shared the transcript of his interview with the bank.

He said: “The SFO’s decision to charge me is based on a false understanding of my role and the facts. I was not a decision-maker and had no control over what the bank did in 2008.”

Boath said he had cooperated with the SFO and the City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority. “The evidence I have supplied is very clear, there is no case for me to answer. I will contest these charges vigorously,” he said.

The bank said the charges related to two advisory services agreements entered into with Qatar Holding, an investment vehicle for the Gulf state, in June and October 2008.

The bank previously stated in documents accompanying the June fundraising that it disclosed the arrangement with Qatar but did not put a value on the deal. Barclays did not disclose the arrangement in the October documentation. The bank has since said the fees amounted to £332m payable over five years.

Barclays said on Tuesday the US justice department and Securities and Exchange Commission had also been conducting investigations relating to these agreements, and that the FCA had issued a warning notice over the matter.

There is a civil case in relation to the events of 2008 brought by Amanda Stavely, an adviser to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, who put more than £3bn into the October 2008 financing. Stavely has brought a civil action claiming fees for her PCP advisory vehicle.