The former Barclays chief executive John Varley has been acquitted in a criminal trial over a deal with Qatar at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.
A decision handed down by the court of appeal on Friday upheld a ruling by a lower court to drop charges against Varley, who was accused of disguising payments made to Qatar. The appeal court upheld the ruling that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.
It also ruled that the remaining defendants, all former senior executives at Barclays, will return to trial at a date to be determined. They are Roger Jenkins, a former investment banking chief; Thomas Kalaris, a former head of the wealth division; and Richard Boath, a former head of European financial institutions at the bank.
Varley, 63, who served as chief executive from 2004 to 2011, was the only UK banking chief to face a criminal trial over his actions during the financial crash.
Lord Justice Gross, sitting at the appeal court, said: “Following an application by Mr Varley at the close of the prosecution case, the trial judge ruled that the evidence against him on each count was insufficient for the case to proceed. The appeal was dismissed by the court of appeal … Accordingly, Mr Varley has been acquitted on both counts.”
The judgment marks the end of a lengthy legal battle for Varley, who faced trial more than a decade after the deal was struck. The trial jury was discharged in April after four months of court proceedings.
The Serious Fraud Office, which brought the charges, accused Varley and his three former colleagues of disguising £322m in payments to Qatar in order to secure £11bn of emergency funding in 2008.
The deal helped Barclays avoid a government bailout, after Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland were nationalised.
Prosecutors alleged the executives put together two advisory services agreements in order to mask Qatar’s demand for a larger discount on its investment. UK regulations put a cap on investor discounts and require all investors to be offered the same deal.
According to the SFO, Barclays chiefs claimed the bank was paying for advice from Qatar and introductions to other investors throughout the Middle East, but never expected those terms to be fulfilled.
The SFO case followed a five-year investigation into the details of the rescue package. The fraud charges carried a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
The remaining defendants all deny wrongdoing. Varley also denied the charges during the initial trial.
The acquittal is another failure by the SFO after a string of failed prosecutions. But the retrial of the remaining former executives is a chance for the SFO to redeem itself.
Last year, the SFO’s case against Barclays over the same Qatari deal collapsed and was similarly struck down by the court of appeal.
Its charges against former Tesco executives accused of masterminding a major accounting scandal were also thrown out at the end of last year after a judge deemed the SFO’s case too weak to face a jury.
The charges against the four former Barclays executives were first made public in 2017, with Varley losing two major board positions shortly after.
He stepped down from the board of the asset manager BlackRock that summer and was also replaced as chairman of the Marie Curie charity.
Varley was a Barclays stalwart, having joined in 1982. He also had close familial ties with the bank after marrying Carolyn Pease, whose father is a former Barclays vice-chairman.