Senior Barclays bankers paid Qatar £322m in secret fees during the financial crisis in return for bailout funds, a court heard on Wednesday.
The case against four former executives has been filed by the Serious Fraud Office over Barclays’ £11.8bn rescue.
The bank avoided a UK government bailout in 2008 by raising funds from Middle Eastern investors.
The executives are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. All four have pleaded not guilty.
The defendants are John Varley, the bank’s former boss; investment banking executive Roger Jenkins; Thomas Kalaris, head of the bank’s wealth management business; and Richard Boath, former European Head of Financial Institutions Group at the lender’s investment bank.
The trial is expected to last from four to six months. The four accused were all granted bail.
At the opening of the trial, prosecutor Edward Brown told Southwark Crown Court that during the financial crisis, Barclays and other banks were “under sometimes extreme pressure to raise further capital”.
He said Barclays was “very anxious” to avoid accepting UK government money, believing that this would place it under greater control and scrutiny from the authorities.
He added: “It is no exaggeration to say that Barclays’ future as an independent bank was in jeopardy in September and October of 2008.”
Mr Brown said Barclays received about £4bn in investments from the Qatar Investment Authority and Qatar Holding during 2008.
In exchange, he said, the bank paid fees to Qatar, some of which were additional commission fees that were hidden in two agreements described as Advisory Service Agreements.
These were more than double the fees paid to other investors in the bank, which he said “demonstrates that the Qataris drove a hard bargain”.
While other, more junior bankers have been tried and even jailed in unrelated cases for their parts in the financial crisis of 2007-08, this is the first time criminal proceedings against senior executives have been brought.
The trial continues.