UNDER-FIRE Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond today admitted much of the bank's rate-rigging scandal "happened on my watch", as his chairman Marcus Agius quit.
The storm intensified as fraud investigators said they would decide within a month on any criminal prosecutions.
The update from the Serious Fraud Office came hours after Agius resigned and announced an internal review into Barclays' “flawed” practices.
An SFO official said “the issues are complex” and added it is “considering whether it is both appropriate and possible to bring criminal prosecutions”.
Both announcements came after Barclays was last week fined £290 million by UK and US regulators for manipulating the Libor, the rate at which banks lend to each other.
The exit of Agius, 65, piles fresh pressure on Diamond to quit too.
The chairman said: “I am the ultimate guardian of the bank’s reputation. Accordingly, the buck stops with me and I must acknowledge responsibility by standing aside.”
He added: “It goes without saying that Barclays will continue to have my wholehearted support in the future.”
Meanwhile it has emerged that Barclays cut key lending rates after a call between Diamond and a Bank of England chief.
Diamond, then boss of Barclays Capital, spoke on the phone to deputy governor Paul Tucker.
They discussed the high Libor rates Barclays paid to borrow cash. Later on the day of the call — October 29 2008 — Barclays traders were told to reduce their rates.
The Financial Services Authority said a “misunderstanding” at Barclays meant managers “mistakenly” believed the Bank of England had given them the green light for the cut.
BBC business editor Robert Peston said of Agius: “He was first in the firing line as far as shareholders were concerned.” Agius added today: “This has been a period of unprecedented stress and turmoil for the banking industry in particular and for the wider world economy in general.”
He added: “I am truly sorry that our customers, clients, employees and shareholders have been let down. Barclays is full of hard-working, talented individuals whose integrity is not in question.”
Agius said: “Last week’s events - evidencing as they do unacceptable standards of behaviour within the bank - have dealt a devastating blow to Barclays reputation." His banking career spanned 40 years.
Diamond will be grilled by MPs on Wednesday — a day before his former boss.
Sources last night tipped former accountant Sir Michael Rake to be the new Barclays chairman.
Taxpayer-owned Royal Bank of Scotland — already being probed — has sacked four traders over rate-fixing, it emerged last night.
They were named as Andrew Hamilton, Neil Danziger, Paul White and Tan Chi Min.
But Min, former head of delta trading for RBS’s global banking and markets division in Singapore, alleges bosses colluded with staff to set the Libor rate artificially.
As the scandal deepened, Business Secretary Vince Cable called for a criminal investigation into rigging.
He said: “The public can’t understand why people are thrown into jail for petty theft and these guys walk away having perpetrated what looks like conspiracy”.
FSA chairman Lord Turner said regulation powers might have to be strengthened “considerably”.
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