Agius Told by U.K. Panel He’s Out of Touch Over Libor Outcry

Marcus Agius, chairman of Barclays Plc, was called “out of touch” by members of the U.K. Parliament’s Treasury Committee after saying the bank had been surprised by the public outcry over the rate-fixing scandal.

In two-and-a-half hours of testimony, Agius appealed for understanding of the “terrifying” experience of running a bank during the 2008 financial crisis. He described how the bank’s directors “were not in a happy place” when Bank of England Governor Mervyn King told him on July 2 that Chief Executive Officer Robert Diamond lost the confidence of regulators.

“Don’t you accept that the bank was totally out of touch, that it took a meeting with the governor of the Bank to do the right thing?” Labour lawmaker Andrew Love asked. In reply, Agius said the bank hadn’t anticipated “the extent of the public opprobrium that ensued” from the 290 million-pound ($450 million) fine Barclays agreed June 27 to pay for rigging Libor, the benchmark interbank interest rate.

Agius said he announced his own resignation on the morning of July 2 in response to the outcry. He defended the bank’s competitive culture, comparing it with the winner of this year’s Wimbledon tennis tournament. “It’s good,” he said. “Roger Federer has a competitive spirit.”

“What do you say to people who say you were not very good at your job?” Conservative David Ruffley asked. “Under your captaincy a great British bank has been dragged through the mud. Are you ashamed of that?”

Challenged by Labour’s Pat McFadden on pay levels at the bank, Agius said he’d had to balance protests from shareholders with the need to keep staff. “I don’t think it’s a matter of culture, with respect,” he said. “It’s a question of trying to manage an extraordinarily difficult situation.”

Andrew Tyrie, the committee’s Conservative chairman, offered a mixed compliment. “We’re finding out a great deal through these exchanges that we should have found out a week ago from Bob Diamond, so thank you,” he said.

-- Editors: James Hertling, James Kraus

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