Barclays CEO avoids vote against re-election over Epstein ties

Barclays chief executive Jes Staley will avoid a potentially embarrassing vote against his re-election over his ties to the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, after activist investor Ed Bramson eased up on demands for his removal in light of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Bramson called for Staley’s removal last month but on Thursday, he admitted the bank would need more time to replace the chief executive as it tried to deal with more pressing challenges posed by the pandemic.

Bramson, whose Sherborne Investors vehicle owns a stake of more than 5% in Barclays, said he was calling on Barclays shareholders to abstain from the vote, which is due before the bank’s annual general meeting on 7 May. It is expected to take place via webcast due to physical distancing rules.

A letter sent by Bramson to Barclays shareholders said: “We continue to believe that Mr Staley has not demonstrated the level of judgment befitting a director or senior executive of the company.

“However, as a result of engagement with Barclays and in recognition of the complexity of the management situation presented during the Covid-19 pandemic, we will now, with great reluctance, only withhold our vote for Mr Staley’s reappointment at the 2020 AGM, rather than vote against him.”

Bramson said fellow shareholders should push the Barclays board for a succession timetable. He added that Staley’s eventual departure “would bring to an end what has now degenerated into a series of public spectacles”.

UK regulators are investigating whether Staley was sufficiently transparent about his relationship with Epstein, who died in prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial on charges of trafficking underage girls.

Staley, who joined Barclays in 2015, has said he developed a relationship with Epstein in 2000 when he became the boss of JP Morgan’s private bank, which counted Epstein among its wealthy customers. The Barclays boss said his relationship with Espstein tapered off after he left JP Morgan in 2013. He made a final visit to Epstein’s private Caribbean island with his wife in the final months of 2015.

The Epstein investigation comes less than two years after Staley was fined almost £650,000 for attempting to unmask a whistleblower at Barclays in 2016.

Barclays is backing its chief executive and said Staley “retains the full confidence of the board, and is being unanimously recommended for re-election” at the AGM. It conducted its own review of Staley’s relationship with Epstein and concluded the chief executive had “been sufficiently transparent with the company as regards the nature and extent of his relationship with Mr Epstein”.

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