Fraud charges over a Barclays bid to raise £2.3billion from Qatar at the height of the financial crisis have been thrown out of court.
The case had focused on allegations that Barclays illegally lent money to Qatari investors in 2008 who used it to buy shares in the bank – saving it from a taxpayer bailout that would have given ministers a say over bonus payouts.
Yesterday at Southwark Crown Court, judge Mr Justice Jay dismissed the charges of fraud and unlawful financial assistance against the lender, Barclays Bank PLC, and its parent group, Barclays PLC.
It is a blow for the Serious Fraud Office, which has been pursuing Barclays for five years over the claims.
Charges dropped: Barclays had been accused of fraud over its bid to raise £2.3bn from Qatar at the height of the financial crisis
If the decision stands, Barclays will avoid a trial which, if convicted, could have left it facing massive fines.
However, the lender said that the SFO is likely to challenge the decision, meaning the charges could be reissued and it could again be headed for the dock.
And four former senior bankers at Barclays – including then-chief executive John Varley, 62 – still face criminal charges over the same issue and are due to stand trial in January next year.
For legal reasons, no details can be revealed about why the Barclays charges were dropped.
Barclays said: ‘The crown court has dismissed all charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office against Barclays PLC and Barclays Bank PLC regarding matters which arose in the context of Barclays’ capital raisings in 2008.
‘The SFO is likely to seek to reinstate charges by applying to a High Court judge to recommence proceedings via a new indictment of the same charges.
‘The dismissals do not and should not be taken to indicate any finding on the issue of whether a criminal offence has or may have been committed by other persons.’
Barclays is also facing a High Court battle with glamorous financier Amanda Staveley over the fundraising from the Qataris.
Staveley, 45 – an ex-girlfriend of Prince Andrew – represented Abu Dhabi investors who bought Barclays shares at the same time in 2008, and claims that her clients were unfairly given different treatment to Qatar.
She is suing the bank for as much as £721million, but the lawsuit is on hold until the criminal proceedings are finished.
It comes as Barclays fights to move on from past misdeeds.
In March it was fined £1.4billion by US authorities for selling toxic mortgages which helped trigger the financial crisis.
And chief executive Jes Staley was hit earlier this month with £1.1million of penalties for trying to unmask a whistleblower, but was allowed to keep his job.
The bank is also squaring up to corporate raider Edward Bramson, who has bought a 5.2 per cent shareholding and is demanding a radical shake-up.
He is expected to call for bosses to sell their prized trading operations to slash costs – a move likely to be fiercely resisted by Staley and chairman John McFarlane.
Varley and his three former colleagues are the only senior bankers to face trial for alleged wrongdoing during the crisis.
The SFO said yesterday: ‘We are considering our position in respect of the ruling concerning the companies.’
Barclays shares yesterday rose 0.7 per cent, or 1.4p, to 208.9p.