By Kirstin Ridley
LONDON (Reuters) – John Varley, former CEO of Barclays, told investigators in 2014 he had had to delegate responsibility during the British bank’s efforts to raise more than £11 billion at the height of the credit crisis.
In a prepared statement read out by a lawyer for the Serious Fraud Office prosecutor in a London fraud trial, Varley said he had wanted Barclays to have a strategic relationship with Qatar in 2008 as part of a broader plan to generate 75 percent of income and profit from outside Britain.
But Varley said that he had had to place heavy reliance on others to run a bank the size of Barclays, especially during the financial crisis in 2008.
“Of necessity, the CEO cannot acquire full visibility nor command the detailed work,” he told investigators, according to the statement read out by the SFO lawyer on Thursday.
“There is nothing unusual in such a business model. A large organisation would risk cirrhosis if the CEO had to be involved in the detail of every decision,” Varley told investigators, according to the statement read to the court.
Varley and former Barclays’ executives Roger Jenkins, Tom Kalaris and Richard Boath are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation over side deals struck with Qatar during a two-part emergency fundraising that allowed the British bank to avoid a state bailout in 2008.
Prosecutors allege the men misled shareholders and other investors by not disclosing that Barclays paid an extra 322 million pounds to Qatar through so-called “advisory service agreements” (ASAs) at the height of the credit crisis.
The men, the most senior to face a criminal trial over crisis-era conduct, deny wrongdoing.
Varley told the SFO he regarded the ASAs as symbiotic with but not dependent or conditional on the Qatari participation in the capital raising – and that it marked a formalised cooperation with Qatar that would involve new business opportunities for the bank in the region.
“I did not regard the fee payable … as connected to the capital raising from a regulatory perspective. The agreement was distinct and I received no contrary advice,” he was quoted as saying in the statement read to the court.
Jenkins, the former chairman of the bank’s Middle East investment banking division, told investigators in 2014 he had relied on legal advice at the time, according to the statement read to the court.
Jenkins told SFO officials he had had no responsibility for the bank’s decisions and no authority to agree terms to any deal. He said he relied on instructions and legal advice and had no reason to doubt the legal advice he had been given.
“I want to be clear that I did not lead on and was not responsible for Barclays’ decisions to raise capital in June and October 2008,” he was quoted as saying in the statement read out to the court.
He said the decision to enter into advisory services agreements with Qatar in June and October 2008 was made by the company board or others in senior management, including Varley and former finance director Chris Lucas.
Lucas has not been charged because of serious ill health.
Prosecutors, who will continue reading out prepared statements by the defendants, said they were not calling further witnesses in the case.
Qatar has not been accused of wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley. Editing by Jane Merriman)