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Staley Faces New Scrutiny Over Long Ties to Jeffrey Epstein

Tom Metcalf and Stefania Spezzati

(Bloomberg) -- The advice was delivered in a beach-side gazebo on a private island in the Caribbean: If you need a private banker, talk to Jes Staley.

The speaker was Jeffrey Epstein, the remarks captured on tape in 2003 -- long before Epstein was accused of sexually abusing and trafficking hundreds of young women and girls on that very island.

Now, six months after his death in a Manhattan jail cell, his 15-year relationship with Staley has once again come to the fore. Today Staley is chief executive officer of the venerable Barclays Plc, and British authorities want to know more about the banker’s ties to the mysterious financier who became an infamous symbol of wealth, privilege and abuse.

“It’s clear in my own mind, going all the way back to 2015 when I joined Barclays -- I have been very transparent with the bank and have been very willing and open to discuss the relationship that I had with him,” Staley, 63, told Bloomberg Television on Thursday.

Barclays has said the CEO retains the “full confidence” of the board. Still, much hinges on the outcome of the investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority, which started inquiries last summer after press reports revealed the links between the men, a person familiar with the process said. The FCA opened a formal probe in December into how Staley characterized his relationship with Epstein.

The turmoil at Barclays is the latest indicator of how the late pedophile has haunted elite financial and social circles ever since he was found dead in his Manhattan cell. He was arrested on sexual trafficking charges in July and accused of abusing and exploiting dozens of girls.

Those who’ve been on the defensive include Leslie Wexner, the billionaire behind Victoria’s Secret, who until Epstein’s first arrest in Florida more than a decade ago relied on him to manage money. Then there’s Glenn Dubin, who last month announced he would retire from his hedge fund, and Prince Andrew, who was forced to step back from royal duties after a disastrous TV interview, in which he tried to explain his friendship with the convict.

Staley reiterated Thursday that he knew Epstein since 2000 when he was head of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s private bank and was told to strike up a professional relationship with the financial adviser.

Epstein regularly brought Staley business and vice versa.

“They know they can call up and ask me, you know, there’s an opportunity here and might take a very large sum of money, $100 million or more, whatever the number may be,” Epstein bragged to journalist David Bank in 2003. “And I can give them an answer by the end of the telephone call.”

Around that time, Epstein and Staley traded calls at least every few months, according to phone records obtained by Florida prosecutors. U.K. regulators have received a batch of emails between the men dating to the time Staley was at JPMorgan that suggested the pair’s relationship was closer than Staley has claimed, according to the Financial Times, which cited people familiar with the matter without identifying them.

Epstein introduced Staley to Dubin, a connection that helped Staley arrange JPMorgan’s acquisition of a majority stake in Dubin’s hedge fund, Highbridge Capital Management, in 2004.

The deal elevated Staley within the bank, turbocharging his career, which culminated in him emerging as a candidate to succeed Jamie Dimon. Ultimately Staley left JPMorgan in 2013 and -- after a brief stint at hedge fund BlueMountain Capital Management -- was named CEO of Barclays in 2015.

Yet even after Epstein’s 2008 guilty plea for soliciting prostitution, in one case with a minor, Epstein stuck by his longtime client. Staley visited while Epstein was serving his time behind bars, according to the New York Times.

The pair were close enough in 2015 for Staley and his wife to stop off for lunch on Epstein’s island while they were on a sailing holiday.

Staley said his relationship with Epstein “began to taper off as I left JPM and contact became much less frequent in 2013, 2014,” before ending in 2015, after his visit to the island and before he took up his role at Barclays.

The beginning of his tenure at Barclays was marked by another scandal after Staley repeatedly and improperly attempted to unmask the identity of whoever sent letters to members of the bank’s board and another executive. After a yearlong regulatory probe, Staley kept his job, though the FCA and Prudential Regulation Authority said he failed to behave “with due skill, care and diligence.”

For now, investors are signaling support for the executive, who’s overseen a 25% share price drop since he took over as CEO in 2015.

“Barclays is probably in a better position today than a few years ago, but these investigations are a continuing distraction,” said Alan Beaney, Chief Executive at RC Brown Investment Management, which has held Barclays shares since 2012. “The board may eventually think this guy is tarnished and decide at some stage that the bank will be better off without him. At the current time, they fully support him”.

Staley is adamant he’s been fully transparent with Barclays. But like others drawn into Epstein’s orbit, he admits to poor judgment.

“I thought I knew him well and I didn’t,” Staley said in a call with reporters on Thursday. “With hindsight of what we all know now, I deeply regret having had any relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.”

(Updates with details of emails in 11th paragraph.)

--With assistance from Anders Melin.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Metcalf in London at tmetcalf7@bloomberg.net;Stefania Spezzati in London at sspezzati@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ambereen Choudhury at achoudhury@bloomberg.net, ;Pierre Paulden at ppaulden@bloomberg.net, David Gillen, David Scheer

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