UK fraud office failed to get key Qatar documents for Barclays trial

Former Barclays' banker Roger Jenkins arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London, Britain, January 23, 2019. (Reuters/File)
Updated 08 March 2019
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UK fraud office failed to get key Qatar documents for Barclays trial

  • Two Qatari companies invested around £4 bn in Barclays
  • SFO investigator David Webb told the jury on Thursday it had taken 18 months to two-years to get “essential” documents

LONDON: Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) failed to take “reasonable and appropriate” steps to get key documents from Qatar’s US lawyers before a fraud trial of four former Barclays executives, a London criminal court heard on Thursday.
The jury was told that Judge Robert Jay had ruled in January on the SFO’s failure to obtain the documents from Latham & Watkins, before the start of the landmark court case against former Barclays CEO John Varley and former senior colleagues: Roger Jenkins, Tom Kalaris and Richard Boath.
The men are on trial over side deals struck by the British bank when it raised more than 11 billion pounds ($14.5 billion) from investors, including Qatar, to stave off a state bailout in June and October 2008 at the height of the credit crisis.
Prosecutors allege the men, who are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, misled shareholders and other investors by not disclosing that Barclays paid an extra 322 million pounds to Qatar through advisory service agreements (ASAs) that were not genuine.
The men deny wrongdoing. In documents shown to the court during the prosecution’s case, they say they relied on legal advice at the time.
Boath, the only defendant to answer SFO questions in 2014 and 2016 that went beyond a prepared statement, was told the agreements were legal as long as Qatar provided valuable services, according to extracts of interview transcripts shown to the court. He said he was confident that Jenkins, who had the relationship with Qatar, would deliver, the court heard.
The flagship SFO case marks the first criminal charges filed in Britain against such senior bankers over credit crisis-era conduct. The trial has offered a rare glimpse into how Barclays battled to avoid state control by clinching a rescue deal with Qatar over a decade ago.
Qatar Holding, part of the Qatar Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund, and Challenger, an investment vehicle of former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, invested around 4.0 billion pounds in Barclays in two capital raisings in June and October 2008.
In so-called “agreed facts” between prosecutors and the defense read out by the prosecution, the jury at Southwark Crown Court was told that the SFO had not interviewed or investigated either Qatari party.
The judge had also noted that although documents held by Qatar’s lawyers Latham & Watkins were probably covered by legal privilege, the SFO had had options to try and obtain them, the jury heard.
SFO investigator David Webb told the jury on Thursday it had taken 18 months to two-years to get “essential” documents from Barclays that the bank originally said were privileged — confidential advice by lawyers for clients — before it waived privilege.
The judge asked Webb if he had asked Boath whether the former director knew that the ASA was never intended to provide genuine services.
“I don’t know,” he said. “If I did say that it would be on the transcript.”
Prosecutors have now closed their case, marking the formal half-way stage in the trial. The judge dismissed the jury until April 1 to allow for lengthy “discussions of law” to begin, he said.


Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

Updated 24 May 2019
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Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

  • Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors
  • After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers said they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies

NEW DELHI: Foreign companies in India have welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election victory for the political stability it brings, but now they need to see him soften a protectionist stance adopted in the past year.
Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors, with US firms such as Amazon.com , Walmart and Mastercard committing billions of dollars in investments and ramping up hiring.
India is also the biggest market by users for firms such as Facebook Inc, and its subsidiary, WhatsApp.
But from around 2017, critics say, the Hindu nationalist leader took a harder, protectionist line on sectors such as e-commerce and technology, crafting some policies that appeared to aim at whipping up patriotic fervor ahead of elections.

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“I hope he’s now back to wooing businesses,” said Prasanto Roy, a technology policy analyst based in New Delhi, who advises global tech firms.
“Global firms remain deeply concerned about the lack of policy stability or predictability, this has sent a worrying message to global investors.”
India stuck to its policies despite protests and aggressive lobbying by the United States government, US-India trade bodies and companies themselves.
Small hurdles
Modi was set to hold talks on Friday to form a new cabinet after election panel data showed his Bharatiya Janata Party had won 302 of the 542 seats at stake and was leading in one more, up from the 282 it won in 2014.
After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers told Reuters they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies.
Other investors hope the government will avoid sudden policy changes on investment and regulation that catch them off guard and prove very costly, urging instead industry-wide consultation that permits time to prepare.
Protectionism concerns “are small hurdles you have to go through,” however, said Prem Watsa, the chairman of Canadian diversified investment firm Fairfax Financial, which has investments of $5 billion in India.
“There will be more business-friendly policies and more private enterprise coming into India,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Tech, healthcare and beyond
Among the firms looking for more friendly steps are global payments companies that had benefited since 2016 from Modi’s push for electronic payments instead of cash.
Last year, however, firms such as Mastercard and Visa were asked to store more of their data in India, to allow “unfettered supervisory access,” a change that prompted WhatsApp to delay plans for a payments service.
Modi’s government has also drafted a law to clamp similar stringent data norms on the entire sector.
But abrupt changes to rules on foreign investment in e-commerce stoked alarm at firms such as Amazon, which saw India operations disrupted briefly in February, and Walmart, just months after it invested $16 billion in India’s Flipkart.
Policy changes also hurt foreign players in the $5-billion medical device industry, such as Abbott Laboratories, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, following 2017 price caps on products such as heart stents and knee implants.
Modi’s government said the move aimed to help poor patients and curb profiteering, but the US government and lobby groups said it harmed innovation, profits and investment plans.
“If foreign companies see their future in this country on a long-term basis...they will have to look at the interests of the people,” Ashwani MaHajjan, an official of a nationalist group that pushed for some of the measures, told Reuters.
That view was echoed this week by two policymakers who said government policies will focus on strengthening India’s own companies, while providing foreign players with adequate opportunities for growth.
Such comments worry foreign executives who fear Modi is not about to change his protectionist stance in a hurry, with one offical of a US tech firm saying, “I’d rather be more worried than be optimistic.”