U.S. prosecutors are probing whether Barclays made any improper payment to win a banking licence in Saudi Arabia, adding to the mounting investigations that the bank is facing.
The Department of Justice is making inquiries into how the bank won its Saudi licence to operate a wealth-management arm and investment bank in 2009, people familiar with the investigation told the Financial Times.
The investigation is at an early stage and is looking into whether payments may have contravened the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, under which the DoJ has powers to prosecute bribery that has taken place anywhere in the world if it has been perpetrated on behalf of a company with links to the U.S. Barclays has a big banking presence in the U.S. and trades it securities on the New York Stock Exchange.
Barclays was one of several Western banks to enter the Middle Eastern kingdom after 2008 when the Saudi Capital Market Authority began to liberalise foreign companies' access to the country.
Barclays and the DoJ declined to comment.
The timing will be particularly sensitive for the bank. Last week, Barclays admitted that it faced a record fine of $435 million from U.S. regulators, plus restitution of $35 million in profits, for allegedly inappropriate trading in power markets.
It is also one of a number of banks under criminal investigation for allegedly manipulating Libor.
It settled its regulatory Libor probes in June by paying a $290 million fine, which in turn sparked a political furore that led to the departure of Bob Diamond, the bank's chief executive.
News of the Saudi probe comes only months after an unconnected UK investigation led by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the Financial Services Authority, which are scrutinising payments made by the bank to Qatar as part of a 2008 cash call at the height of the financial crisis.
Those inquiries are ratcheting up. Barclays said in the summer that four current and former staff were being probed, including Chris Lucas, the bank's finance director.
According to people close to the situation, the other current employee is Richard Boath, co-head of global finance in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Mr Boath declined to comment.
The SFO this week served Barclays with a so-called "section two notice", which obliges the bank to hand over documents and witnesses, the people said.
Barclays turned to the Qatar Investment Authority for two capital raisings in 2008.
The bank also disclosed that year that 300 million pounds ($477 million) had been paid in fees and commissions as part of the deal, including 66 million pounds to Qatar Holding "for having arranged certain of the subscriptions in the capital raising."
The bank disclosed last week that it was co-operating with US authorities' FCPA investigations though it gave no details.
The FSA and SFO also declined to comment.