Barclays board ‘must end support’ for bank boss over links with Jeffrey Epstein

The board of Barclays should withdraw support for its chief executive Jes Staley over his links with paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein, an activist investor has demanded.

In a public letter on Monday, Edward Bramson said he “strongly recommends” chairman Nigel Higgins remove a proposal to re-elect Mr Staley to the bank’s board for an upcoming shareholder meeting.

Mr Bramson, who has a 5.8% stake in the bank through a series of complicated financial arrangements, said it was “extremely ill-advised” to continue supporting Mr Staley.

The activist investor added that removing the boss would help “draw a line under this destabilising situation, which has become a circus, as soon as possible”.

FTSE 100 photos
FTSE 100 photos

Last month, the Barclays chief executive said he “deeply regrets” his relationship with Epstein whilst at JP Morgan, which continued for seven years after the financier was convicted of sex offences.

Mr Staley said his last contact with the paedophile was in the autumn of 2015, shortly before he joined Barclays, but not before the banker and his wife sailed to Epstein’s private island for lunch that year.

He had no contact with Epstein since joining Barclays in December 2015, Mr Staley added.

But the Financial Conduct Authority is investigating whether the bank played down the relationship.

Officials are looking at a letter the company wrote to the watchdog following Epstein’s death in the US and subsequent reports of Mr Staley’s relationship while running JP Morgan’s private bank for wealthy clients.

Mr Bramson, who made an ill-fated attempt to take a boardroom seat, has previously called for Barclays to shrink its investment bank and focus on consumer businesses or return cash to shareholders.

He was defeated but retains a stake via his investment vehicle.

The activist investor said: “The management of a financial institution that provides services to a client engaged in child prostitution not only potentially violates the rules, but is an enabler of that act, whether unwittingly or not.”

Issuing the statement via his vehicle Sherborne Investors, he added: “A board that tolerates such conduct, whether occurring in the present or in the past, is also an enabler of that act. Any shareholder that votes for a director in these circumstances would also be an enabler.”

Shareholders will have the chance to vote for Mr Staley’s re-election to the board at the bank’s annual general meeting, being held in Glasgow in May.

Investors tend to back chief executives for re-election, with the most recent notable defeat in January 2019 when the former boss of Debenhams lost a vote shortly before the company collapsed into administration.