Barclays agrees to hand over internal documents to Serious Fraud Office

Bank, which is being investigated by SFO over its fundraising during financial crisis, had argued that documents were protected by client-lawyer privilege

Barclays has agreed to hand over internal documents to the Serious Fraud Office in a change of approach towards the SFO’s investigation into its rescue fundraising during the financial crisis.

The bank will give the SFO communications linked to the inquiry into whether Barclays and its leaders made false and misleading statements about a £7bn deal with Middle Eastern investors.

Barclays had argued that the documents contained legal advice protected by client-lawyer privilege. However, it changed its stance before a court hearing due in March at which the SFO intended to argue that legal privilege did not allow documents to be withheld from a fraud inquiry.

The SFO is examining Barclays’ payment of £322m in advisory fees to Qatar Holdings, a subsidiary of Qatar’s sovereign investment fund, when the bank strengthened its finances in 2008. The capital injection allowed Barclays to stay out of the government’s bailout of UK banks and avoided the Treasury becoming a shareholder.

The SFO pressed its case for the release of the documents at a private hearing in December. The chairman of Barclays, John McFarlane, and the chief executive, Jes Staley, have said they want to end disputes with regulators that have damaged the bank’s reputation.

Senior Barclays managers interviewed by the SFO for its investigation, which has been going on for at least three years, include the former finance director Chris Lucas.

Barclays admitted three years ago that the City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, had issued it with a £50m fine for “reckless” behaviour in relation to its fundraising, which was backed by Qatar. The bank is contesting the fine.

Barclays made much of its ability to avoid a taxpayer bailout at a time when Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group were forced into state-backed rescues. But the deal has come back to haunt it.

As well as the SFO’s inquiry and the contested FCA fine, Barclays faces a claim for nearly £1bn brought by Amanda Staveley, who helped arrange a £3.5bn investment by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan as part of the fundraising. Staveley is seeking fees that she believes her company is due from the deal.

Responding to the Staveley suit, Barclays said last week: “We believe the claim against Barclays is misconceived and without merit and Barclays will be vigorously defending it.”

If the hearing over the Qatar documents had gone ahead, it would have been the first time the SFO, under pressure to achieve results after a series of botched investigations, challenged a company over the matter in court.

Barclays and the SFO declined to comment.

Contributor

Sean Farrell

The GuardianTramp

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