LONDON, July 2 (Reuters) - Pressure mounted on Monday f
or Barclays Plc chief executive Bob Diamond to quit after Britain's third biggest bank sacrificed its chairman over an interest rate rigging scandal that has dealt 'a devastating blow' to its reputation.
Chairman Marcus Agius, who said 'the buck stops with me', is the first major scalp from a scandal that is likely to involve more banks and embarrass financial regulators.
But the departure of Agius did not take the heat off Diamond, who was running Barclays' investment banking arm when the interest rate manipulation took place.
'The buck in Barclays stops with Bob Diamond, and it is Bob Diamond who must accept responsibility,' said John Mann, a Labour politician and a member of a panel of lawmakers who will grill Diamond on Wednesday, and Agius on Thursday.
'He (Diamond) must resign. He's got to go. There is no role for people like him if banking is to be trusted again in this country and if British banking is to restore its tarnished reputation in the world, which of course is of great importance to our economy,' Mann said on Sky News.
Barclays has admitted that some of its traders tried to manipulate the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), which is used worldwide as a benchmark for prices on about $350 trillion of derivatives and other financial products.
Prime Minister David Cameron has called the scandal 'extremely serious' and said management had 'some big questions to answer'. Authorities also ordered a review into the working of Libor, a key lending rate between banks.
'Last week's events - evidencing as they do unacceptable standards of behaviour within the bank - have dealt a devastating blow to Barclays reputation,' said Agius, 65.
'I am truly sorry that our customers, clients, employees and shareholders have been let down,' he said.
Britain's Serious Fraud Office, which has been working with the Financial Services Authority (FSA), said it would decide within a month whether to press criminal charges.
The Barclays affair comes at a time when banks in Britain, - already under fire for their role in the financial crisis, are facing a new wave of public outrage.
A technology problem at RBS shut millions of customers out of their accounts last month, and evidence has emerged showing banks mis-sold financial products to thousands of small businesses.
FAR AND WIDE
Fined $453 million by U.S. and British authorities, Barclays is the first bank to settle in an investigation which is looking at more than a dozen other banks, including Citigroup, HSBC, UBS and RBS.
HSBC said that as a bank that contributes to setting the Libor interest rate it was providing information to authorities, but the FSA said it was not investigating the bank.
'Barclays has become the poster child for this because they have been the first to be assessed by the regulators,' Euan Stirling of Standard Life Investments, a major investor which holds some 2 percent in Barclays, said on BBC radio.
'I think this is going to spread far and wide through the industry,' Stirling said.
Smaller shareholders were robust in their demands for Diamond to take responsibility.
'I still think it is going to be hard for Bob Diamond to keep his job. I don't think he has built up enough shareholder goodwill in the past to be able to ride this one out,' said a top-25 investor in the bank, who asked not to be named.
Barclays shares were up 3 percent at 1317 GMT, outperforming a 1.6 percent rise by the European bank index.
The exit of Agius was not seen as a big blow, analysts said, and a 17 percent crash in the past three trading days looked excessive in light of the hit the bank is likely to suffer.
CONVERSATION WITH THE BOE
Lawmakers this week are likely to quiz Agius and Diamond on what the Bank of England (BoE) and other regulators knew about the rate-rigging.
The hearings could prove embarrassing for the central bank, after sources told Reuters a conversation in October 2008 cited in documents released by U.S. authorities last week was between Diamond and BoE Deputy Governor Paul Tucker.
Some people at Barclays mistakenly believed they had been granted permission to submit artificially low rates for Libor after the conversation, the documents showed.
'It is nonsense to suggest that the Bank of England was aware of any impropriety in the setting of LIBOR,' a BoE spokesman said. 'If we had been aware of attempts to manipulate LIBOR we would have treated them very seriously.'
Barclays has admitted it submitted artificially low estimates of its borrowing costs from late 2007 to May 2009 because it thought rivals were doing the same, and higher submissions would make it appear to be in trouble.
Barclays employees expressed their concern that Libor rates were being set too low to the British Bankers' Association - the UK banking lobby group that is also responsible for setting Libor - the Financial Services Authority, the BoE and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York between November 2007 and October 2008, a U.S. Department of Justice document said.
However, the employees did not provide 'full and accurate information' to the authorities, the document said.
Barclays said it would launch an audit of its business practices, led by Michael Rake, its senior independent director, who will move up to deputy chairman.
Rake is seen as a strong candidate to become Barclays' next chairman - especially as he was not appointed to lead the search for Agius's successor - although he is already chairman of BT Group and easyJet, and may have to give up one or both of those.
The audit will undertake 'a root and branch review of all of the past practices that have been revealed as flawed' and assess implications for its practices and culture. Diamond said its recommendations would be implemented in full.
Cambridge-educated Agius became chairman at the start of 2007 after more than 30 years as an investment banker and then chairman at Lazard. His wife Kate, a successful art dealer, comes from the Rothschild banking dynasty.
Wealth-X, the Singapore-headquartered research house which tracks the wealth of the world's richest people, estimates that Agius has a net worth of at least $35 million.
Agius also relinquished his position as chairman of the BBA, a role that is drawn from the senior ranks of one of the banks. The BBA said it would announce a successor in due course.
(Additional reporting by Tim Castle, Additional writing by Douwe Miedema,; Editing by Anna Willard, Will Waterman and Giles Elgood) Keywords: BARCLAYS LIBOR/
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