Jes Staley exchanged 1,200 emails with Jeffrey Epstein over a four-year period with content that included unexplained terms such as “snow white”, according to people familiar with the correspondence between the former Barclays chief executive and the convicted sex offender.
Staley resigned from Barclays last week after seeing preliminary conclusions of an investigation by UK regulators, which examined whether he had mischaracterised his relationship with Epstein as purely professional. He has said he will contest the findings.
Central to the probe was a cache of emails first provided to US regulators by JPMorgan, where Staley worked for more than 30 years in various roles including head of the private bank where Epstein was a client.
Epstein died by suicide in 2019 while awaiting trial on charges that he sex-trafficked underage girls.
Neither the extent of the email traffic between the two men nor any of its content has been made public until now.
Many of the emails, sent between 2008 and 2012, were matter of fact — for example, discussing news articles or arranging to meet up for drinks — but showed a close relationship between the two men, according to the people familiar with the contents.
However, regulators have highlighted certain terms that do not have an obvious meaning. The “snow white” reference was written in a short, two-message exchange referring to a conversation the men had previously had in person, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Regulators at the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority are yet to draw conclusions over the phrase, a second person said.
Kathleen Harris, a lawyer for Staley, said: “We wish to make it expressly clear that our client had no involvement in any of the alleged crimes committed by Mr Epstein, and codewords were never used by Mr Staley in any communications with Mr Epstein, ever.” She said all the emails were innocuous.
Barclays pointed to an earlier statement that said “the investigation makes no findings that Mr Staley saw, or was aware of, any of Mr Epstein’s alleged crimes”. JPMorgan declined to comment.
Staley’s ties to Epstein began in the early 2000s when Epstein, who managed money for billionaires, was a client of JPMorgan’s private bank. They became sufficiently close that Staley visited Epstein while he was serving a prison sentence in Florida in 2009 for procuring a child for prostitution and soliciting a prostitute.
Staley has said their relationship began to “taper off” after he left the US bank in 2013. However, just a few months before joining Barclays in 2015, Staley sailed his yacht to Epstein’s private Caribbean island. He also allowed Epstein to mentor one of his daughters during her college application, the Financial Times has previously reported.
Staley has said he had no contact with Epstein after the island visit and is contesting the regulators’ findings. He has hired Harris, London managing partner at Arnold & Porter and a former senior official at the UK Serious Fraud Office, who also represented him in a prior investigation into his attempt to unmask a whistleblower, for which he was censured and fined £642,000 in 2018.
While aware of Staley’s connection to Epstein when he joined Barclays, the FCA and PRA opened a formal probe after receiving the email cache from US regulators in 2019, people familiar with the matter told the FT.
Barclays was first notified about the emails in early December 2019, when chair Nigel Higgins was summoned to see Mark Carney, the then governor of the Bank of England, the people said.
Regulators were concerned that the emails contradicted an earlier letter sent by the bank, which described the relationship as professional. They urged the board to review the new information and check if the CEO had played down his links with the disgraced financier.
The bank spent the next two months scrutinising the large amount of documents with the assistance of law firm Clifford Chance. At one point Staley considered resigning but was persuaded to stay, two people familiar with the decision said.
Barclays resolved to stand by Staley, deeming him to have been truthful about the relationship and deciding that no conclusions could be drawn about the unexplained language.
In February last year the bank said the CEO had been “sufficiently transparent with the company as regards the nature and extent of his relationship with Mr Epstein” and retained the board’s “full confidence”.
Overall, the FCA probe took 22 months to reach a conclusion, which is yet to be made public. Material witnesses in the case were interviewed in person in late 2020, with the process delayed by Covid-19 restrictions, people familiar with the timeline said.
Regulators focused on whether Staley was “full and frank” with them in his initial disclosures and subsequent interviews. Regulations require a firm to engage with the FCA in an “open and co-operative way” and disclose anything of which regulators “would reasonably expect notice”.
If Staley continues to contest the findings, the case will be referred to the FCA’s regulatory decisions committee, an independent body made up of veteran lawyers and bankers. They can uphold the watchdog’s original findings or reject them. If upheld, Staley can still appeal to a tribunal. The process could take years.
Additional reporting by Joshua Franklin in New York