Former Barclays bosses face London trial over Qatari cash call

Former Barclays banker, John Varley, arrives at Southwark Crown Court, in central London
FILE PHOTO: Former Barclays banker, John Varley, arrives at Southwark Crown Court, in central London, Britain July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Tolga Akmen

January 4, 2019

By Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) – The most senior bankers to face criminal charges in Britain over conduct during the financial crisis will appear before a London jury next week in a trial that will test the mettle of the Serious Fraud Office.

Former Barclays <BARC.L> CEO John Varley and three one-time colleagues stand charged over deals with Qatari investors to secure cash injections that allowed the bank, that can trace its origins back to around 1690, to survive the crisis a decade ago.

The trial, scheduled to start on Monday and slated to last for up to four months, is expected to begin with lengthy legal, procedural arguments before prosecutors open their case.

Varley, who married into one of the families that helped build Barclays, Roger Jenkins, the one-time chairman of the Middle Eastern banking arm, Tom Kalaris, an American former wealth division CEO and Richard Boath, a former European divisional head, are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud.

Varley, renowned for trademark bright braces and Jenkins, now based in California, also face a separate charge of unlawful financial assistance – a practice of companies lending money to fund the purchase of their own stock.

Lawyers for Boath and Kalaris declined to comment, while legal representatives for the other defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

When charges were filed in June 2017, a lawyer for Jenkins said his client would vigorously defend himself against the allegations. Boath said at the time he had no case to answer.

Barclays secured around 12 billion pounds ($15 billion) in emergency funds from mainly Gulf investors as markets plunged in 2008, allowing it to avoid the state bailouts taken by rivals Royal Bank of Scotland <RBS.L> and Lloyds <LLOY.L>.

Qatar Holding – part of the Qatar Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund – and Challenger, an investment vehicle of former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, invested about 6 billion pounds in the bank.

But the SFO, which prosecutes serious white collar crime, has charged the men over “capital raising arrangements” with Qatar Holding and Challenger in June and October 2008 and a $3 billion loan facility Barclays made available to Qatar in November 2008.

Qatar, a major investor in Britain, has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Lawyers say the performance of the SFO will be under as much scrutiny as that of the well-heeled defendants after a court threw out its separate charges against Barclays over the capital raising – and a judge last month halted its prosecution of former senior Tesco <TSCO.L> supermarket managers mid-trial.

Lisa Osofsky, who took the top job at the agency last August, has stood back from handling the Barclays case because of a potential conflict of interest linked to her previous work.

The new year has started briskly for the SFO. Its retrial of three former Barclays traders accused of plotting to rig Euribor global interest rates kicks off on Jan. 14. A jury was unable to reach a verdict in their case last year.

(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Keith Weir)

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