The judge overseeing the fraud trial of four former Barclays bosses has criticised the Serious Fraud Office for failing to take “reasonable and appropriate” steps to obtain key evidence.
Mr Justice Jay said the SFO had not done enough on disclosure of key documents from Qatar’s lawyers during its six-year investigation into whether Barclays bankers paid secret fees to the Gulf state as it invested £4bn in the bank during the financial crisis.
The jury was told on Thursday that Jay had ruled that the SFO’s investigators had “not taken all reasonable and appropriate steps” to obtain documents from Latham & Watkins, a US law firm which represented Qatar and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem, the Qatari prime minister at the time of Barclays’ emergency fundraising in 2008. The ruling was made before the trial.
Southwark crown court in London also heard that the SFO had not investigated the Qatari sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Holdings, or Bin Jassem as suspects.
The information emerged in the seventh week in the trial of John Varley, a former Barclays’ chief executive, and three other former bank executives. Jay sent the jury home until 1 April to allow for lengthy “discussions of law”.
It is the first criminal trial investigating bank bosses’ behaviour during the 2008 financial crisis. Varley, Roger Jenkins, Thomas Kalaris and Richard Boath are accused of conspiring to pay Qatar £322m in “hidden” fees in order to attract fundraising from the Gulf state and avoid a UK government bailout.
The judge said that although documents held by Latham & Watkins were probably covered by legal privilege, the SFO had had options to try and obtain them.
SFO investigator David Webb told the jury it had taken 18 months to two years to get “essential” documents from Barclays that the bank originally said were privileged before the privilege was waived.
Varley, Jenkins, Kalaris and Boath all deny the charges.