LONDON (Reuters) - Former Barclays CEO John Varley was acquitted of fraud charges on Friday after senior judges said there was insufficient evidence against him in a case about Qatari cash injections that saved the bank from a state bailout in 2008.
The case, pursued by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), was the first time the head of a global bank has faced criminal charges over conduct during the financial crisis, when the banking system was brought to its knees and taxpayers were forced to pay billions of pounds to shore it up.
SFO prosecutors had charged Varley with two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, alleging he plotted to pay Qatar secret fees to help rescue Barclays, one of the few major British banks to survive the credit crisis without direct government aid.
But judges at the Court of Appeal in London agreed with a lower court’s ruling that the SFO’s evidence against Varley, who had denied wrongdoing, was insufficient to proceed with the case.
Three other former Barclays executives charged alongside Varley are to be retried at a date yet to be determined.
Prosecutors alleged the four men misled shareholders and other investors by not disclosing that the bank paid an extra 322 million pounds to Qatar during a two-part 11 billion pound ($14 billion) emergency fundraising in June and October 2008.
Roger Jenkins, the former Barclays chairman of investment management in the Middle East, ex-wealth management head Tom Kalaris and Richard Boath, who headed the corporate finance business, also deny any wrongdoing.
The case is seen as a major test of the SFO, which has been investigating the events leading up to Qatar’s investment since 2012, and has faced criticism over its difficulties in holding senior bankers to account.
The taxpayer-funded investigator and prosecutor won praise from some politicians and lawyers in 2017 for filing criminal fraud charges against Barclays itself and the senior executives after a five-year investigation.
But Varley’s acquittal follows a separate court decision to also dismiss the charges against the bank in 2018.
Varley, an Oxford-educated former lawyer, stood down as Barclays CEO in 2011 and has spent most of the years since embroiled in the SFO probe.
He joined the bank in 1982, and after 12 years in investment banking, going on to head its asset management division and retail banking.
He became finance director in 2000 and was promoted to CEO in 2004. He stood down in 2011 when investment banker Bob Diamond took over.
Reporting by Iain Withers; Writing by Kirstin Ridley and Rachel Armstrong; Editing by Alexander Smith and Mark Potter