July 24, 2018 / 9:32 AM / 2 months ago

UK prosecutor seeks to restore criminal case against Barclays

LONDON (Reuters) - The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said on Tuesday it was seeking to resurrect a high-profile prosecution of Barclays (BARC.L) over undisclosed payments to Qatari investors during the credit crisis two months after a London court dismissed its case.

FILE PHOTO: A Barclays sign outside a branch of the bank in London, Britain, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

The agency had been praised as “fearless” for taking on one of the world’s largest banks when it first charged Barclays and four former senior executives - including a one-time chief executive - with criminal offences in June 2017.

But the prosecution fell at the first hurdle after a London court in May threw out its charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and unlawful financial assistance against Barclays Plc - and a charge of unlawful financial assistance against its subsidiary, Barclays Bank Plc.

Barclays had been charged over payments to Qatari investors in connection with a two-part, 12 billion pound ($16 billion) emergency fundraising, that included a $3 billion loan to Qatar at the height of the credit crisis in 2008. The deal allowed the bank to avoid a state bailout.

The SFO said it had applied to the High Court for permission to serve a draft indictment, a rare legal procedure once called a “voluntary bill of indictment”, that allows prosecutors to challenge a decision made in the lower Crown Court.

The SFO last applied for a voluntary bill of indictment unsuccessfully in a Welsh mining rights case in 2014 — and lawyers said it was a risky strategy.

“The SFO is attempting a second bite of the cherry, which could be a high-risk strategy and viewed as a misstep,” said Charles Kuhn, a partner at law firm Clyde & Co.

Barclays, which said in May it expected the SFO to try to reinstate the case, plans to oppose the application. It declined to comment on the substance of the SFO’s case.

FUNDRAISING

The case centers on agreements between Barclays and Qatari investors during two fundraisings in June and October 2008.

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 more than 6 billion pounds in Barclays.

Authorities examined whether payments from Barclays to Qatar at the same time, such as “advisory services agreements” and the $3 billion loan, were honest and properly disclosed.

Public companies in Britain are normally prohibited from lending money for the purchase of their own shares, a process known as financial assistance.

Qatar, a major investor in Britain, has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Any failure to revive the case would mark a major setback for the SFO, which narrowly avoided being rolled into a broader crime-fighting agency last year. It is awaiting the arrival in September of new director Lisa Osofsky, a former FBI lawyer.

The SFO dropped an investigation into Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L) and individuals in July over alleged rate-rigging, blaming insufficient evidence.

Barclays shares were trading 1.35 percent firmer at 1244 GMT, outperforming a 0.8 percent rise on the FTSE 100.

Additional reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru, editing by Sinead Cruise and Adrian Croft

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