Nearly a decade after the financial crisis, its tentacles have finally reached out into the criminal courts.
A bank and four of its most senior former employees all charged with a fraud involving billions of pounds and the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar.
It has all the ingredients of a crucial case at a crucial time. The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is fighting for its future, while Barclays has suffered years of reputational hits. Neither will want to back down now.
To understand these charges, you do have to cast your mind back to the febrile atmosphere of 2008, when British banks were facing a sudden and devastating funding crisis.
:: Former Barclays bosses face criminal charges
RBS and Lloyds both resorted to massive, life-saving bailouts from the British government, but Barclays didn’t.
Instead, it arranged a huge funding deal with investors in Qatar, which arrived in two multibillion pound tranches five months apart.
The way in which those deals were constructed is now at the heart of the SFO’s case. Fees of around £320m were paid to advisers, but there has been almost no information about who got that money, and why.
The second set of allegations may seem even more curious – the idea that Barclays gave money to Qatar, in order to send it straight back to the bank.
The allegation is that the bank, worried about its capital position, lent money to Qatar, in order that most of that money could be spent on buying its own shares, bolstering the appearance of the bank’s financial position.
It’s a practice known as “unlawful financial assistance”, and it is, as the name suggests, against the law. I’m told that the bank will vehemently fight against this.
So far, the public response offered by the bank has been pretty muted – a statement of facts followed by the insight that the bank is “considering its positions”. Behind closed doors in Canary Wharf, though, the bank is seething.
Barclays feels that it is being held to a different moral standing to other banks. A senior figure at the bank on Tuesday compared its actions during the financial crisis with those of RBS and HBOS, both of which needed to be rescued through the public purse.
“We were all told that the over-riding interest was in the stability of the financial system,” said the source. “We didn’t cost the taxpayer anything, there was no zombie bank and nobody was disadvantaged.”
The bank says it still hasn’t had a statement of facts, so can’t predict how it will plead.
However, I’m told Barclays officials feel they were never offered the chance to sign a deferred prosecution agreement – the mechanism by which big companies, facing this sort of legal action, can pay a huge fine to avoid prosecution.
In recent times, both Rolls Royce and Tesco have agreed such deals, priced at £497m and £129m respectively.
The SFO, which faces abolition under the terms of a pledge made in the Conservative manifesto, may feel that it could earn more money, and more plaudits, from a successful court case.
For Barclays, this is yet another high-profile problem to deal with. Beleaguered by years of problems around Libor and PPI, the bank’s dealing with Qatar remains under investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority, the US Department of Justice and the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
The current chief executive, Jes Staley, is also facing an inquiry into his own efforts to identify a whistle-blower at the bank.
It would be a remarkable litany, were it not for the fact that we have all become accustomed to accusations of misbehaviour by our banks.
Confronted by these criminal charges Barclays share price barely moved this morning.
Source: SKY News Feed