Dirty tricks at Barclays yet more evidence of big banking arrogance

There are two ways to look at the news that Antony Jenkins, the chief executive of Barclays, will turn down his US$1.6m bonus this year.

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There are two ways to look at the news that Antony Jenkins, the chief executive of Barclays, will turn down his US$1.6 million (Dh5.8m) bonus this year.

One is that it is another positive step to reforming the embattled bank, which among other scandals was fined half a billion dollars in June for trying to manipulate the London interbank offered rate (Libor). The alternative explanation is that this is a public relations gambit intended to mute public outrage.

After all, coming off its annus horribilis of 2012, the last thing Barclays wants is any discussion of the recent disclosures about the absolutely shocking behaviour of Andrew Tinney, the former chief operating officer of the bank's high-end investment division, then known as Barclays Wealth.

A year ago, Mr Tinney, who made about $8m a year helping to run a division with nearly $300bn under management, commissioned an outside report of the workplace culture at his division by the consultancy Genesis Ventures. It was a response to a 2011 Securities and Exchange Commission finding of "deficiencies and weaknesses" at the US unit of Barclays Wealth, known as BWA.

At Mr Tinney's direction, two investigators from Genesis interviewed more than 50 US employees and discovered a business more than a little out of control.

"The senior team portray themselves as all-powerful and all-knowing," Genesis found. "And people chose to disagree with them at their own peril. It is a mentality of superiority which, when combined with other deficiencies, stops the team from tackling their blind spots."

As reported first by the Daily Mail of London, Mr Tinney had the Genesis report messengered to his Surrey estate last April. Horrified by what he read about the business he was supposed to be managing, he fed what he thought was the only copy into a shredder and, according to the paper, "denied all knowledge of it ever having existed".

In September an anonymous whistle-blower emailed Mr Jenkins, who had just replaced Mr Diamond, and Marcus Agius, then the Barclays' chairman, and told them the wealth division was "deeply flawed", had a "corrupt culture" and oh, by the way, why don't you see if you can get your hands on the Genesis report.

On October 29, Barclays told the Financial Services Authority, its UK regulator, about the whistle-blower emails and hired a law firm to investigate. Dubbed Project Helium, Barclays gave the law firm access to more than 60,000 documents and emails on its computer system.

Eventually, the law firm found the Genesis report. When it interviewed Mr Tinney in December, he insisted it was "not a report" and didn't need to be disclosed. But he admitted he shredded the document. Barclays put him on indefinite leave. Early last month, the full Project Helium report was given to Barclays. On January 14, Mr Tinney resigned.

Yet Mr Tinney's story has barely caused a ripple on Wall Street. Now, according to the Financial Times, UK regulators are looking into whether Barclays fraudulently loaned Qatar money to invest back in the bank to help it avoid a government bailout in 2008.

While the revelations about insufferably bad behaviour on Wall Street continue, the public seems to have grown tired. All the while, Wall Street chief executives fly off in their private jets to Davos, Switzerland, where they work hard to convince the media elite they are changing the corrupt culture at their firms. Frankly, it's all a pathetic sham.

This is how we end up with a world where overpaid bankers such as Andrew Tinney think nothing of destroying the evidence of extreme malfeasance then lying to their bosses about it. Have we reached the tipping point yet?

William D Cohan, the author of Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World, is a Bloomberg View columnist