LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) failed to take “reasonable and appropriate” steps to get key documents from Qatar’s U.S. lawyers before a fraud trial of four former Barclays executives, a London criminal court heard on Thursday.
The jury was told that Judge Robert Jay had ruled in January on the SFO’s failure to obtain the documents from Latham & Watkins, before the start of the landmark court case against former Barclays CEO John Varley and former senior colleagues: Roger Jenkins, Tom Kalaris and Richard Boath.
The men are on trial over side deals struck by the British bank when it raised more than 11 billion pounds ($14.5 billion) from investors, including Qatar, to stave off a state bailout in June and October 2008 at the height of the credit crisis.
Prosecutors allege the men, who are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, misled shareholders and other investors by not disclosing that Barclays paid an extra 322 million pounds to Qatar through advisory service agreements (ASAs) that were not genuine.
The men deny wrongdoing. In documents shown to the court during the prosecution’s case, they say they relied on legal advice at the time.
Boath, the only defendant to answer SFO questions in 2014 and 2016 that went beyond a prepared statement, was told the agreements were legal as long as Qatar provided valuable services, according to extracts of interview transcripts shown to the court. He said he was confident that Jenkins, who had the relationship with Qatar, would deliver, the court heard.
The flagship SFO case marks the first criminal charges filed in Britain against such senior bankers over credit crisis-era conduct. The trial has offered a rare glimpse into how Barclays battled to avoid state control by clinching a rescue deal with Qatar over a decade ago.
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 around 4.0 billion pounds in Barclays in two capital raisings in June and October 2008.
In so-called “agreed facts” between prosecutors and the defense read out by the prosecution, the jury at Southwark Crown Court was told that the SFO had not interviewed or investigated either Qatari party.
The judge had also noted that although documents held by Qatar’s lawyers Latham & Watkins were probably covered by legal privilege, the SFO had had options to try and obtain them, the jury heard.
SFO investigator David Webb told the jury on Thursday it had taken 18 months to two-years to get “essential” documents from Barclays that the bank originally said were privileged - confidential advice by lawyers for clients - before it waived privilege.
The judge asked Webb if he had asked Boath whether the former director knew that the ASA was never intended to provide genuine services.
“I don’t know,” he said. “If I did say that it would be on the transcript.”
Prosecutors have now closed their case, marking the formal half-way stage in the trial. The judge dismissed the jury until April 1 to allow for lengthy “discussions of law” to begin, he said.
Reporting by Kirstin Ridley. Editing by Jane Merriman