Fraud investigators are facing criticism after three former Barclays executives were cleared over a £4bn investment deal with Qatar during the banking crisis.
Following a five-month trial at the Old Bailey, a jury acquitted Roger Jenkins, 64, Tom Kalaris, 64, and Richard Boath, 61, who had all denied any wrongdoing.
The verdict follows an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) that lasted more than seven years and led to the first criminal charges against senior financiers at a major bank over their alleged conduct at the time of the financial crash.
It also signals a likely end of efforts by prosecutors to hold top bankers to account for decisions taken during the global meltdown, that led to taxpayer-funded bank bailouts running into hundreds of billions of pounds.
The court case hinged on payments made by Barclays to the wealthy Middle Eastern state to secure emergency funding back in 2008 to avoid rescue financing by the UK government.
In June of that year, Barclays secured £4.4bn, of which £1.9bn was from Qatar, followed by a second tranche of funding totalling £6.8bn in the autumn, that included a £2.05bn investment by the oil and gas-rich country.
The SFO claimed the favourable terms given to Qatar, including an extra £322m in fees, were hidden from the market and other investors through bogus advisory service agreements (ASAs).
At the time of the alleged fraud, each of the defendants held senior positions at Barclays.
The three bankers had originally been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud alongside former Barclays chief executive John Varley.
However, last year a judge dismissed the charges against Mr Varley, saying the SFO did not have enough evidence against him to proceed.
The SFO appealed against the decision, but it was upheld by the Court of Appeal.
A case it brought against Barclays itself was also dismissed in 2018.
The SFO is yet to reveal the cost of the investigation, which began in August 2012.
Following the acquittal of the three men, the agency said in a statement: “Our prosecution decisions are always based on the evidence that is available, and we are determined to bring perpetrators of serious financial crime to justice.
“Wherever our evidential and public interests tests are met, we will always endeavour to bring this before a court.”
Speaking outside court, Mr Boath said he felt “very relieved” about the verdicts.
“I was very surprised they brought the case. Frankly it was a complete invention on the part of the SFO and they should really never have brought it,” he added.
Commenting on the SFO and its powers to investigate and prosecute, Mr Boath said: “There’s no oversight on that process.
“So once they’ve started an investigation and spent a lot of money on that, they’re inclined to prosecute. So I think that needs to be looked at.”
Jurors were told that a fourth man, Christopher Lucas, had been found unfit to face trial due to illness.
Jessica Parker and Peter Binning, partners at Corker Binning, who represented Mr Varley at his trial said: “The verdicts raise serious questions about the SFO decision to bring the case.”
Qatar, a major UK investor and still a significant Barclays shareholder, was neither investigated nor accused of