Barclays boss faces probe over 'historical links' to Jeffrey Epstein

James Sillars, business reporter

Barclays has said its chief executive Jes Staley has the "full confidence" of the board as regulators examine his "historical links" to Jeffrey Epstein, the US financier revealed as a paedophile.

As it reported full-year results for 2019, the bank said Mr Staley's past dealings with Epstein were the subject of investigations by both the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) of the Bank of England.

It was widely reported in the US media last year that the men - both Americans in the banking sector - had done business together during a time when Mr Staley held a senior position at JPMorgan.- running its private bank.

Barclays said Mr Staley had offered an account of that relationship and that, following a review, the board had decided he would be "unanimously recommended" for re-election at the bank's AGM in May as he had been "sufficiently transparent".

Its statement said Mr Staley had given an assurance that the pair had not been in contact at any time since he took over as Barclays boss back in 2015.

He later told reporters that he regretted his relationship with Epstein, who was found dead in his New York prison cell last year, saying they first met in 2000.

"I thought I knew him well, and I didn't. I'm sure with hindsight of what we all know now, I deeply regret having had any relationship with Jeffrey Epstein," he said.

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

The regulatory investigation into Mr Staley's conduct is the second in recent years.

The FCA and PRA fined him £642,000 pounds in 2018 for trying to identify a whistleblower who sent letters criticising a Barclays employee.

Mr Epstein died last August and is believed to have hanged himself as he faced child sex-trafficking charges.

The fallout from his death has cast a shadow globally as a string of associates and friends distance themselves from his activities.

They include Prince Andrew, whose friendship with the billionaire and handling of the issue has forced him away from royal duties as he faces allegations relating to his own behaviour.

He has denied any suggestion of wrongdoing.

News of the regulatory inquiries overshadowed the bank's financial results, which revealed a 9% leap in profit before tax to £6.2bn - boosted by fixed income trading at its investment bank.

However, that figure was dented when additional provisions to cover the payment protection insurance mis-selling scandal were included - taking profits to £4.35bn.

The bank booked a £1.4bn charge in 2019 following a surge in late claims ahead of August's deadline for complaints.

The profit performance helped Mr Staley receive a 75% rise in his pay package.

Barclays said, in its annual report, that he took home a total of £5.9m - boosted by the vesting of a long term incentive plan worth almost £1.5m and his annual bonus rising to £1.65m.

The bank reported stable income for its core UK operation with strong competition and reduced risk appetite in UK cards, amid political and economic uncertainty linked to Brexit last year, offset by mortgage and deposit balance growth.

The bank raised its dividend from 6.5p per share in 2018 to 9p though shares fell 3% in early trading.

Traders said it reflected concern over the Staley investigation and planned shareholder returns.

Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, wrote: "Coming after the whistleblowing fine, it's looking like the cat may be running out of lives."

He added: "The numbers look reasonable though as Staley has steered the ship through some choppy waters for European banking.

"However revenues missed expectations and admission of failure on its 2020 return on tangible equity target takes the shine off things."