One of the three former Barclays bankers cleared in a high-profile fraud trial in February has called on the attorney-general to review whether the Serious Fraud Office is properly exercising its powers to both investigate and prosecute cases.
Richard Boath, the former European head of Barclays’ financial institutions group, was cleared of fraud charges at an Old Bailey trial alongside Roger Jenkins and Tom Kalaris. The case related to fees Barclays paid to Qatar on two cash calls in the 2008 financial crisis, which helped the bank avoid a UK taxpayer bailout.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Boath said his life had been turned upside down in the eight years since the SFO began its £10m investigation in 2012. His marriage broke down, he left Barclays in 2016 and he spent two periods in London’s Priory hospital for anxiety and depression.
“I was a highly paid banker so I don’t expect an ounce of sympathy from anyone,” he said. “But I do expect somebody, somewhere to ask the right questions of the SFO.”
“Charging people is not trivial. It affects their lives, it affects their financial lives, their mental health, their physical health, their financial health. It’s a big deal to charge someone if you are the SFO . . . So exercising that power is a real privilege and in my view they have fallen short of their obligation to do that responsibly.”
He added: “All I want is someone — perhaps the attorney-general or just someone who has responsibility for the SFO — to examine whether they think the SFO should continue to be allowed to exercise that privilege.”
The SFO, which was set up in 1988, has powers to both investigate and prosecute fraud cases under its so-called Roskill model. However a longstanding recommendation that an independent oversight body — a fraud commission — should be set up to oversee the SFO’s fraud cases has never been implemented.
Mr Boath, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the financial regulator even as the SFO pursued criminal charges against him, is highly critical of the Roskill model, claiming it brings a “conflict of interest” and is akin to “marking your own homework”.
The SFO is inspected regularly by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, an independent body and supporters of the Roskill model argue that it is more relevant now due to the ever- increasing complexity of SFO cases.
The fraud agency alleged in the Barclays trial that the three bankers had lied to the market in official documents — using “secret” side agreements — in the cash calls. The three defendants denied wrongdoing, saying the deals were genuine and had been approved by Barclays’ board and its lawyers.
In July 2012, Mr Boath, who was paid £2.87m in 2007, was still working at Barclays when he was told of an investigation by the financial regulator into the side agreements signed with Qatar. “I was surprised, alarmed and I spent the first couple of months staring at my living room wall actually,” he said.
The SFO began its probe the same year. Mr Boath answered questions from the agency for eight days under caution in 2014 and 2016 and said he gave the SFO a case full of material, such as transcripts of conversations, that it did not have. He said he initially thought he might be called as a witness — rather than a defendant — in any prosecution.
In June 2017 the father of four found out he and the other defendants were being charged via an email from his lawyer at 7.02am. “I was surprised. We [his legal team] had spoken to the SFO throughout all of this saying — look if you think there is a case here it’s obvious Richard isn’t someone who had any responsibility for [the advisory side agreement]”.
Mr Boath said that by the first court hearing in July 2017 he had “been through the worst” and “rebuilt my health . . . I thought I was resilient, robust, all patched up, raring to get going. I couldn’t understand for the life of me what possible case they had against me.”
He added that “there were so many holes in the prosecution case I don’t know where to start” and described the trial as “a sort of cross between a Dickens novel and Monty Python”.
“The process is almost endless — an English criminal trial takes about three or four times as long as an American criminal trial. There’s a kind of faux politeness between the parties. in reality it’s all-out warfare in [the courtroom].”
Much of the SFO’s evidence hinged on emails and lurid tapes from Mr Boath’s routinely taped phone line, including conversations in which he and Mr Kalaris, discussed fears of going to jail.
“In essence what the SFO had was this treasure trove of one liners, sentences, bad jokes, rude words, inappropriate banter, it was just a gold mine,” he said.
The SFO said in a statement that all prosecutors are required to assess whether there is sufficient evidence to bring a case before a jury and in this case both the Court of Appeal and trial judge had ruled that the three defendants had a case to answer. Supporters of the SFO also say that it is the function of a criminal justice system to have some acquittals in any cases brought.
After Mr Boath was acquitted he broke into a broad smile, saying “yes” and turned to the jury mouthing “thank you”.
He has been doing consultancy work, including for Jerry del Missier, former co-head of Barclays Capital, and said he now hoped to rebuild his career. “I like to think after all this I can rebuild some professional life whether it’s a job or role as adviser because I have lost a bit of career time,” he said.
“I’m proud of what I did to help [Barclays] to keep going and to help it remain independent . . . I know I did nothing wrong.”
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