SFO inquiry into Barclays could turn into yet another costly disaster

OUTLOOK: The Serious Fraud Office’s inquiry into Barclays’ Middle Eastern fund raising is getting, well, serious.

Reeling from the ignominious collapse of its investigation into the property mogul Tchenguiz family, combined with budget cuts and several senior departures, the agency is in desperate need of a win.

Hence the effort being put into Barclays. 

If my sources are correct, the SFO is throwing everything, including the kitchen sink and the instant coffee served to defendants, at this one. 

In addition to its plans to quiz former chief executives John Varley and Bob Diamond, it has interviewed Roger Jenkins, once the head of the bank’s tax planning unit. Former finance director Chris Lucas is on this list too, in addition to everyone from the former general counsel to the woman who brought the tea and biscuits in when they were holding meetings. 

Superficially you can see whey the Barclays case might look like an attractive target. 

Wealthy bankers are not exactly held in high public esteem right now. Historically the size, length and complexity of fraud trials has made it difficult to secure convictions, and with enough scrutiny over enough time directed at prosecution cases “reasonable doubt” is almost inevitably established.

The scales of justice might just tip back in a prosecutor’s favour if the defendants come from a profession whose members are about on the level of MPs who cheat on their expenses in terms of the public esteem in which they are held.

Moreover if the SFO could secure a conviction of a senior banker - or any banker - for events during the financial crisis, that would be far more than any other authority in this country has achieved. All the Financial Services Authority could manage was to ban two executives from the City who already out of the game, while fining one of them (Peter Cummings) £500,000. 

But the SFO is playing a dangerous game here. Those it is pursuing have the means and motivation to fight very hard against it. Any case would turn into a war that might make the year long £40m Blue Arrow fraud trial in 1992 look like a minor skirmish. That, you may remember, was labelled a “costly disaster” by the Appeal Court when it set aside the convictions of the defendants.

The Financial Conduct Authority has also been involved in the case. It would like to fine Barclays £50m over the Qatari cash call, but a dust up between the two of them is on hold until the SFO is finished with any criminal proceedings. 

Operating under a civil regime, the FCA has also been looking at individuals. That’s significant because it only has to prove its case “on the balance of probabilities”.

Given that together with its previous record, the SFO might, on the balance of probabilities, have been better advised to leave its fellow agency in the driving seat. 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot