The trial of four of the most senior bankers at Barclays began in one of the most high-profile cases to have reached court since the financial crash of 2008. John Varley, who was formerly the bank’s chief executive, will appear alongside colleagues Tom Kalaris, Roger Jenkins and Richard Boath charged with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation. Mr Varley and Mr Jenkins are also charged with unlawful financial assistance over a deal struck with Qatar at the height of the financial crisis that prevented the bank from seeking a government bailout.
Dubbed the ‘Barclays’ four’, the bankers have been charged concerning an £11.8bn emergency fund that was given to Barclays in 2008 by investment firms Qatar Holdings and Challenger Universal. As part of the deal, the British lender lent £2.3bn to Qatar Holdings. Prosecutors allege that the reciprocal loans were used to unlawfully fund the purchase of Barclays shares, either directly or indirectly. This, it is argued, amounts to unlawful financial assistance. The Qataris have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The charges against the four men, which were first made public in 2017, resulted in Mr Varley losing two important board positions. Following the revelations, the 62-year-old banker stepped down from his position on the board of asset management firm BlackRock and was replaced as the chairman of cancer charity Marie Curie. Mr Varley was considered a Barclays stalwart, having joined the bank in 1982, and served as its chief executive from 2004 to 2010.
The case has been brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the body with powers to investigate and prosecute cases involving top-end fraud. The trial, which is expected to last 12 weeks, is also seen as a test for the SFO after two previous high-profile cases were scrapped within the last year without going to trial.
A case involving former executives of the supermarket chain Tesco was thrown out in December after the judge in the case declared that it was too “weak” to warrant a trial. The executives had been accused of being the masterminds behind a serious accounting scandal, with the SFO believed to have spent around £10 million pursuing a conviction against the men.
An earlier case brought against Barclays bank, which also related to the Qatar fundraising but is separate from that brought against the executives, was dismissed by Southwark Crown Court last year. The SFO sought an appeal to reinstate the charges, but this was also rejected.
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