Friday 28 February 2020 3:32 pm

Legal firms call for reform of Serious Fraud Office after ex-Barclays execs acquitted

Law firms have called for reform of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) today after three former Barclays executives were cleared of financial crisis-era fraud to save the bank.

Roger Jenkins, Thomas Kalaris and Richard Boath were all acquitted of charges of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation in connection with the 2008 Qatar fundraisings.

The legal profession was damning of the fraud watchdog, which has been investigating the deal for the past seven years.

The SFO had alleged that the three used phoney advisory services agreements to hide undeclared payments made to Qatar to induce two investments in the bank.

Jeremy Summers, head of business crime, at Osborne Clarke said: “Although the director, Lisa Osofsky, recused herself from this case, this decision is yet another significant reversal that has occurred during her tenure.

“We may now be at the stage that, if the agency is to survive in the long term, a radical root and branch review of the way it investigates and prosecutes cases is urgently required. The list of high profile failed cases is at risk of becoming dangerously uncomfortable.”

Ross Dixon, partner at Hickman & Rose solicitors, said the verdict “once again brings into question the decision making of the SFO when it comes to individuals”:

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“The SFO’s failure to secure any convictions in this important and high profile case raises serious questions about the agency’s treatment of individuals in these matters.

“While it would be wrong for the SFO to only prosecute matters where it is certain of success; time after time allegations against individuals have been dismissed by the Court or been rejected by a jury”.

Sam Tate, head of white collar crime at RPC, agreed that today’s decision showed that “the law on criminal corporate liability is old and outdated and ripe for reform”.

A spokesperson for campaign group Spotlight on Corruption said that “the UK has a serious problem prosecuting white collar crime”:

“Time and again individuals are being acquitted where egregious fraud and corruption has been alleged. There needs to be an urgent independent review as to whether poor resourcing of law enforcement, the composition of juries or the lack of judges with specialist commercial and criminal expertise is the root cause”.

The SFO did not comment on the reform calls, but issued the following statement on the verdict:

“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 interest tests are met, we will always endeavour to bring this before a court.”