LONDON – British regulators charged Barclays bank and four former executives, including then-CEO John Varley, with conspiracy to commit fraud when they asked Qatar for a cash infusion to avoid a government bailout at the height of the financial crisis in 2008.
The Serious Fraud Office announced the charges Tuesday following an investigation into two rounds of fundraising from Qatar in June and October of 2008. The probe centered on two side agreements under which Barclays paid the Qatari investors 322 million pounds ($406 million) over five years, the bank disclosed in 2013.
The question at the heart of the case is whether Barclays hid from authorities and other shareholders the true nature of the fundraising plan with Qatar.
The charges are the first in Britain against a bank and former executives for activities during the 2008 financial crisis. They are a blow to current CEO Jes Staley, who is trying to rebuild Barclays' reputation after a series of scandals. The bank is already facing litigation from the U.S. Department of Justice and a Financial Conduct Authority probe of allegations that Staley tried to uncover the identity of a whistleblower.
"Skeletons seem to be jumping out of lots of closets at once for Barclays," said Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. "The spectacle of former executives being paraded through court will do nothing to strengthen the credentials of the bank as it continues to try to execute its turnaround plan."
Barclays said it is "considering its position" and "awaits further details of the charges from the SFO." The bank's shares fell 1.9 percent in London.
Barclays says it disclosed the first advisory service agreement with Qatari investors that was reached in June 2008, but the second agreement and the fees payable under both were not included in public documents, according to a statement released in September 2013, when the bank was selling more shares.
The bank and two former executives also face a charge of unlawful financial assistance related to a $3 billion loan facility Barclays made available to Qatar in November 2008. It is alleged Barclays lent money to Qatar with the understanding that the gulf nation could use the money to buy shares in the bank, making its financial position look more positive.
The fundraising efforts of 2008 came as banks around the world struggled to keep their doors open. Britain's Northern Rock collapsed early in the financial crisis, while Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group were forced to accept billions of pounds of state aid and the government oversight that came with it.
Varley, 61, former investment banking chief Roger Jenkins, 61, Thomas Kalaris, 61, who headed the bank's wealth management division, and Roger Boath, 58, head of the European financial institutions group, were all charged with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation in relation to the first round of fundraising. Barclays, Varley and Jenkins were charged with another count in regard to the second round, as well as a separate charge of providing unlawful financial assistance.
The four are scheduled to appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on July 3, together with a representative of the bank.