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Unanswered Questions on Barclays Remain

Patrick Jenkins, Financial Times
Thursday, 5 Jul 2012 | 8:44 AM ET

It lasted more than three hours. But despite speaking fluently for most of that time, Bob Diamond’s interrogation by MPs on Wednesday left unanswered many of the questions surrounding Barclays, the bank from which he resigned as chief executive on Tuesday.

Mr Diamond avoided some of the toughest questions and denied knowledge of key issues, as he was grilled by the 13-member Commons Treasury committee on the Libor price-rigging scandal and other matters related to his departure.

At times he was apologetic, at others inconsistent.

Only minutes into the questioning, when Andrew Tyrie, the committee’s chairman, had posed his first query on why Mr Diamond had decided to resign, he stonewalled suggestions that it was prompted by calls from regulators to chairman Marcus Agius. Were there phone calls, he was asked? “I don’t know,” he said. “If Marcus had conversations with regulators, that is for him to tell you about.”

It emerged on Tuesday that both Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, and Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, had called Mr Agius late on Monday to make clear that Mr Diamond should go, according to several people familiar with the calls.

Mr Diamond was similarly evasive over his pay, among the most controversial in British banking. To the irritation of politicians and shareholders alike, the now ex-CEO of Barclays received close to 25 million pounds in total remuneration last year, despite a slump in the bank’s share price and profitability, and hefty penalties related to the industry-wide mis-selling of payment protection insurance.

Asked whether he would voluntarily forfeit his right to Barclays share awards, still pending under the terms of long-term incentive plans, Mr Diamond said: “That’s a decision for the board”, although he implied the bank might have a valid claim for applying an element of “clawback” to past bonus allegations.

Whenever he had the opportunity, Mr Diamond stressed how much he “loved” Barclays, how “appalling”, “abhorrent” and “horrible” traders’ attempted manipulation of Libor interbank lending rates had been and how he had been “decisive, unbending and fast” in rooting out the problems once they emerged.

Learning of the damning email evidence of the price-rigging, “I felt physically ill. It was reprehensible behavior,” Mr Diamond told the committee.

While the 2005-06 trading manipulation had been engineered for personal gain by staff involved, the 2007-08 phase had the goal of convincing the world the bank was safe amid global market turmoil.

As Barclays’ settlement with regulators in the UK and US last week revealed, it reported that its cost of interbank borrowing was lower than the real price at which it could fund itself.

Mr Diamond was at pains to stress how other banks were quoting interbank borrowing rates that could not have been realistic, because some, such as HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland , were reliant on emergency funds from the Bank of England, and yet were posting lower Libor submissions than Barclays.

Much of the MPs’ questioning focused on what was said in a conversation between Mr Diamond and Bank of England deputy governor Paul Tucker, now deputy governor of the BoE, at the height of the financial crisis in October 2008.

Contemporaneous notes released by Barclays on Tuesday had appeared to show Mr Tucker sanctioning a lowering of rates by Barclays, although Mr Diamond stopped short of such an allegation on Wednesday.

His testimony was not always consistent. His accounts of his interaction with regulators over whether an artificial lowering of rates was sanctioned conflicted with his insistence that the first he knew of the allegations was when he read the regulators’ settlement report last month.

For the American banker being grilled, it was no way to mark the fourth of July, or the 16th anniversary of when Mr Diamond began his career at Barclays. For the committee, there was little to celebrate in terms of revelations, either.

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