LONDON: A former Barclays executive said he pretended to be busy to avoid looking panicked while negotiating a 2 billion-pound (US$2.6 billion) investment from Qatar at the height of the 2008 financial crisis that saved the bank from a government bailout.
Roger Jenkins, then head of Barclays Middle East group, made the then-prime minister of Qatar wait ahead of a June 2008 meeting so he wouldn’t look desperate, according to a phone call played for London jurors at a fraud trial on Thursday.
Jenkins told Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who also ran the country’s sovereign wealth fund, that he’d have to leave Qatar’s capital for other meetings.
Jenkins is one of four former Barclays executives charged with conspiring to defraud investors by not disclosing 322 million pounds in secret fees that were paid to the Qataris, and Sheikh Hamad, as part of the investment that saved the bank from nationalisation.
“I pretended that I had to go back to Dubai for meetings so that I didn’t sleep overnight waiting for the prime minister in Doha,” Jenkins said in a call with Richard Boath, another executive on trial in the case.
“And then I turned up an hour late and told him I was caught up in a documents meeting. I had to pretend like I’m so busy.”
In addition to Jenkins and Boath, ex-Barclays Chief Executive Officer John Varley and former head of wealth Tom Kalaris are also defendants. They have all pleaded innocent.
The case is the first UK criminal trial of senior bankers connected with the financial crisis. The trial, which started Jan. 23, is scheduled to last for as long as six months and, if found guilty, the defendants could face up to 10 years in jail.
Boath was the only one of the four defendants whose phone line was recorded, because he worked on the trading floor.
His calls with Jenkins, lawyers and other colleagues, revealed the gallows humour and colourful language as the executives scrambled for multi-billion dollar investments from Asian funds.
Varley was prepared to enter into an unwritten agreement with an official at Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund to deliver “pro bono work to a certain value” to help convince him to invest, Robert Morrice, an executive in Asia, told Boath in one call.
“God, I hate these f–ing side deals,” Boath responded.
Boath related the sense of desperation in other regions to Jenkins, telling him that Barclays hadn’t heard from China Development Bank, which was also promising to invest, since the previous week.
“That’s Goldman,” Jenkins said, referring to Goldman Sachs Group, which had a relationship with the Chinese. “Goldman are waiting for us to bend over.”
“We have no leverage in the process, over any of them,” Boath said. “It’s just a series of pretty pleases.”
“Well you’ve got to fake it,” Jenkins said.
In another call between the two, Jenkins complained about senior executives not being prepared to take on the risk of going ahead with the Qatari deal before regulatory approval was guaranteed.
“It’s stupid, it’s f–ing stupid,” Jenkins said. “We’ve got to do a deal here. We want their money, so take the f–ing risk. We are being pathetic.”
Boath said that it was Varley who was unwilling to take on the risk.
“Well, he’s being a wally,” Jenkins said.