After a five-year investigation, the SFO announced today that it has charged Barclays PLC and four former executives with conspiracy to commit fraud and the provision of unlawful financial assistance. The SFO charges relate to the bank's fundraising at the height of 2008's financial crisis; when it entered into funding arrangements with Qatar.
Former chief executive John Varley is one of the four ex-staff who will face Westminster magistrates on 3 July. Barclays says it is considering its position and awaiting further details.
Aziz Rahman, of Rahman Ravelli, believes the court proceedings could be a fascinating showdown between one of the UK’s biggest banks and the SFO; with neither side appearing to be prepared to compromise.
Prior to the general election, Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her intention to abolish the SFO; which may still be smarting from failing to convict two Barclays traders in April for Libor manipulation.
Mr Rahman said: "This case could turn out to be a defining one for the future of the SFO.
"The events of 2008 that led to Barclays striking a deal with Qatar were an extraordinary set of circumstances. Now we have another extraordinary situation where an organisation whose future has been under threat is looking to take on one of the biggest banks.
"No one doubts that arrangements between Barclays and Qatar were made. But while the SFO believes the arrangements that Barclays entered into were illegal, it appears that Barclays completely denies this.
"This year has already seen Rolls-Royce and Tesco admit wrongdoing and be granted a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA); which involves them meeting certain conditions in exchange for not being prosecuted.
"The fact that there is no hint of a DPA in this case – and that both the bank and individuals have been charged – indicates quite clearly that Barclays is in no mood to admit any wrongdoing."
Mr Rahman added that the SFO’s prosecution of both the bank and individuals that worked for it was surprising.
He said: "When it came to the cases of Tesco and Rolls-Royce, the SFO accepted that those two companies had undergone such changes to their senior personnel that they were no longer the same companies.
"Barclays has undergone a similar change but this, so far at least, has not counted for anything with the SFO.
"Both the bank and the four former employees who have been charged will now be working on the most robust defence cases possible. This may mean many arguments in court from all sides about whether the allegations surrounding Qatar were the responsibility of the bank as a corporate entity, the four men charged or, as the SFO believes, both" Barclays and the individuals.
"The trial is certain to produce many arguments regarding the issue of an organisation’s corporate liability as opposed to the liability of individuals working for that organisation."