Fraud charges against Barclays over Qatar deals

The headquarters of the British bank Barclays (R) is seen at the Canary Wharf district of east London on June 20, 2017. Britain's Serious Fraud Office said on June 20 it had charged Barclays, a former chief executive of the banking giant and three other ex-managers, with "conspiracy to commit fraud" linked to emergency fundraising from Qatar during the financial crisis. (AFP)
Updated 21 June 2017

Fraud charges against Barclays over Qatar deals

DUBAI: Qatar’s 2008 bailout of Barclays has come back to haunt the British banking giant, with the leveling of fraud charges against it and four former senior executives over multibillion-pound deals nine years ago.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the UK’s top financial prosecutor, announced charges as Qatar’s financial sector showed signs of further strain under the weight of sanctions brought to bear by a coalition of neighboring countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
It has for months been considering action over the undisclosed terms of £6.1 billion ($7.7 billion) worth of deals that saw Qatari investors buy shares to prop up the bank at the height of the global financial crisis, after an investigation that began in 2012.
The SFO on Tuesday announced charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and provision of unlawful financial assistance against the Barclays parent company and four executives who were at the heart of the deals.
The highest profile is John Varley, former group chief executive, who becomes the first boss of any global bank to face criminal charges as a result of the 2008 crisis, which sparked a global crash and recession.
The others were well-known deal-doers at the bank: Roger Jenkins, former chairman of investment banking in the Middle East; Thomas Kalaris, former head of wealth and investment management; and Richard Boath, former head of financial institutions in Europe.
The SFO charges named Qatar Holding, one of the troubled country’s investment vehicles and Challenger Universal, an investment unit set up by former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, as counterparties to the deals but no British criminal actions have been brought against any Qatari citizens.
Separately, Qatari bankers on Tuesday reported that the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), its main sovereign wealth fund, made billions of dollars worth of deposits in local banks in an effort to head off any liquidity crisis as fears grew in the country that the current blockade by its neighbors might spark a run on financial institutions there.
In 2008, Barclays was facing its own liquidity crisis as the strains of the global financial crisis weighed on all the big British banks. Some were forced to swap their independence for government bailout funds to avoid bankruptcy.
Barclays, under Varley, chose instead to seek assistance from the Arabian Gulf in a set of transactions that brought in billions of pounds of capital. The first tranche involved investors in Qatar and in Abu Dhabi, the second just Doha investors.
Barclays agreed to pay Qatari investors £322 million in return for the capital injections in side deals that were not disclosed at the time and which the SFO alleges amounted to fraud. There are no allegations against the Abu Dhabi investor.
A third transaction in 2008 involved Barclays making available a loan of $3 billion to Qatar, which the SFO alleges amounted to unlawful financial assistance.
Barclays said it was considering its position in relation to the charges. “Barclays awaits further details of the charges from the SFO,” it said.
The former executives either declined to comment or professed their determination to fight the charges. Jenkins’ lawyer said he intended to vigorously defend against the charges. “As one might expect in the challenging circumstances of 2008, Mr. Jenkins sought and received both internal and external legal advice on each and every aspect of the accusations leveled today by the SFO,” he told the Financial Times.
Boath is involved in a separate action against the bank in a claim for wrongful dismissal over information he provided the SFO in the course of their investigation.
Barclays is also fighting a £720 million claim from financier Amanda Staveley, who was involved in the 2008 transactions.
The charges come at a politically sensitive time for both Qatar and the UK. The former is resisting pressure from its neighbors in the Gulf to halt alleged support for terrorist organizations, which has led to the cutting of economic ties with its two biggest neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
On the liquidity measures taken recently, the Qatar Central Bank (QCB) told Reuters: “QIA regularly places deposits in local banks, this is normal.”
Qatar is also a big investor in Britain, with extensive real estate interests and ownership of high-profile assets like the Harrods department store.
Britain, seeking to make up lost investment in the wake of the impending withdrawal from the EU, has made no secret of its need for stronger investment links with the Gulf.
• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. He can be reached on Twitter @frankkanedubai

Oil prices rise on gains prompted by tensions between US and Iran

Updated 25 June 2019

Oil prices rise on gains prompted by tensions between US and Iran

  • Russian energy minister praises international cooperation to stabilize oil markets

LONDON: Oil prices rose on Monday, extending large gains last week that were prompted by tensions between Iran and the US, as Washington was set to announce new sanctions on Tehran.

West Texas Intermediate crude was up 50 cents, or 0.87 percent, at $57.93 a barrel.

Brent futures were up 9 cents, or 0.14 percent at $65.29 a barrel by 1040 GMT.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he called off a military strike in retaliation for the shooting down of a US drone by Iran, saying the potential death toll would be disproportionate, adding on Sunday that he was not seeking war.

Oil prices surged after Iran shot down the aircraft on Thursday that the US claimed was in international airspace and Tehran said was over its territory.

Brent racked up a gain of about 5 percent last week, its first weekly gain in five weeks, and WTI jumped about 10 percent, its biggest weekly percentage gain since December 2016.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “significant” sanctions on Iran would be announced on Monday aimed at further choking off resources that Tehran uses to fund its activities in the region.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said the UK believed neither the US nor Iran wanted a conflict but warned tensions could lead to an “accidental war.”

Also boosting prices, global supply may remain tight as OPEC and its allies including Russia appear likely to extend their oil cut pact at their meeting July 1-2 in Vienna, analysts said.

“An extension of OPEC+ production cuts through the end of the year seems highly likely given recent price action,” US investment bank Jefferies said in a note.

“The market expects an extension though, and any failure could see oil price gap down. The probabilities favor restraint however,” it added.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak on Monday said international cooperation on crude production had helped stabilize oil markets and is more important than ever.

“There is a good example of successful cooperation in balancing the oil market between the OPEC countries and non-OPEC. Thanks to joint efforts, we today see a stabilization of world oil markets,” Novak said.

Boosting oil demand, prospects of a near-term interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve aimed at bolstering the US economy have weakened the dollar.

Oil is usually priced in dollars, and a slide in the value of the weaker greenback makes it cheaper for holders of other currencies.

Separately, Iranian crude exports have dropped so far in June to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) or less after the US tightened the screws on Tehran’s main source of income, industry sources said and tanker data showed, deepening global supply losses.

The US reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. Aiming to cut Iran’s sales to zero, Washington in May ended sanctions waivers to importers of Iranian oil.

Iran has nonetheless sent abroad about 300,000 bpd of crude in the first three weeks of June, according to two industry sources who track the flows. Data from Refinitiv Eikon put crude shipments at about 240,000 bpd.

“It’s a very low level of real crude exports,” said one of the sources.

The squeeze on exports from Iran, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, is a key factor for the producer group and its allies, which meet on July 1-2 to decide whether to pump more oil in the rest of 2019.

Iran’s June exports are down from about 400,000-500,000 bpd in May as estimated by the industry sources and Refinitiv and a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal.

Iranian exports have become more opaque since US sanctions returned in November, making it harder to assess volumes.

Tehran no longer reports its production figures to OPEC and there is no definitive information on exports since it can be difficult to tell if a vessel has sailed to a specific end-user.

Refinitiv Eikon data showed Iran has exported 5.7 million barrels of crude in the first 24 days of June to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Singapore and Syria, although these may not be the final destinations.

Kpler, another company which tracks oil flows, estimates that Iran loaded 645,000 bpd of crude and condensate, a light oil, onto tankers in the first half of June, of which 82 percent are floating in Gulf waters.

That would put actual crude exports in the first half of the month even lower than 300,000 bpd.

“American restrictions are having a clear effect on Iran’s ability to sell into global markets,” Kpler said.