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Barclays must face US shareholder lawsuit over $17.7 billion debt sale blunder

Published 02/23/2024, 10:48 AM
Updated 02/23/2024, 02:27 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Workers are seen in at Barclays bank offices in the Canary Wharf financial district in London, Britain, November 17, 2017. Picture taken November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A U.S. judge ruled on Friday that Barclays must face a proposed class action by shareholders who accused the British bank of securities fraud related to its sale of $17.7 billion more debt than regulators allowed.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla in Manhattan said shareholders adequately alleged that Barclays' failure to disclose the absence of internal controls that might have caught five years of errant debt sales was a material omission of fact.

She also let shareholders try to prove that Barclays and several officials including former CEO Jes Staley were "actionably reckless" in assuring that the bank complied with federal securities laws even as it "blindly" sold the debt.

Bank executives subsequently characterized the overissuance as an "entirely avoidable" and "self-inflicted" problem that would not have required "rocket science" to avert.

Barclays declined to comment. Staley's lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lawyers for shareholders led by the Boston Retirement System pension fund did not immediately respond to similar requests.

The lawsuit followed Barclays' revelation in March 2022 that it had sold $15.2 billion more structured and exchange-traded notes in the prior five years than the $20.8 billion that U.S. regulators had authorized.

Four months later, the bank increased the oversold amount to $17.7 billion. It offered to repurchase the excess, and set aside 1.59 billion pounds ($2 billion) for the overissuance.

In a 57-page decision, Failla said shareholders could sue Barclays for statements including that the bank was "committed to operating within a strong system of internal control" and had policies and procedures that met regulatory standards.

The judge said such statements are often too generic to support a lawsuit, but Barclays' case had a "critical difference" because its system for tracking the debt sales "did not just underperform - it did not exist."

Failla also ruled that shareholders could not pursue a securities fraud claim over statements that Barclays made after the overissuances were discovered.

The lawsuit covered shareholder who lost money in Barclays' American depositary receipts from Feb. 18, 2021 to Feb. 14, 2023 as costs mounted over the blunder.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Barclays bank building is seen at Canary Wharf in London, Britain May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth//File Photo

Staley stepped down as CEO in November 2021.

The case is In re Barclays Plc Securities Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-08172.

Latest comments

Staley at BARCLAYS! An $8 bank stock up .30 cents in 5 f years! An embarrassment. This will bankrupt Barklays. And their investment analysts had the nerve to down grade AAPL and other honest companies. Staley should go to prison. UK banks are dirty institutions they debank for political reasons. Nigel Frarge is right !Never buy UK banking Stock.
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