The Johnny Depp trial might have sucked up all the headlines with its lurid tales of betrayal and excess, but, really, it’s small fry. If Depp wins, he can expect to receive damages in the comparatively piffling region of $400,000. Meanwhile, at the same time in the same court, a woman is in the middle of suing a bank for almost $2 billion.
To discover why, we need to travel back to a few frenzied days 12 years ago. When the financial crash hit in 2008, several British banks chose to opt for a course of partial nationalization, selling stakes to the U.K. government in order to keep the lights on. It was a sensible move at the time, but the trade-off involved imposing restrictions on things like executive pay and shareholder dividends. Barclays did not take this path. Instead, it relied on a cash injection from the royal families of Abu Dhabi and Qatar, to the tune of $9.2 billion.
The financial fixer with Abu Dhabi was Amanda Staveley, a relatively unknown British woman who received around $38 million for her role in the transaction. But now her private-equity firm is suing the bank, claiming that her counterparts on the Qatar side received 10 times her fee for a smaller transaction. She says she deserved more; Barclays claims that she’s inflating her role. Still, despite the eye-watering sums of money involved, Staveley is easily the most interesting aspect of the trial.
Barclays did not take this path. Instead, it relied on a cash injection from the royal families of Abu Dhabi and Qatar, to the tune of $9.2 billion.
A tall, blonde Cambridge-educated Yorkshirewoman who modeled her way through college, Staveley is famed for her connections in the Middle East. In 2008, she burst out of nowhere to broker the $276 million deal to sell Manchester City Football Club to Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Given her connections, it might not come as much of a surprise that one of her ex-boyfriends is Prince Andrew, another figure fond of sloshing around in Middle Eastern wealth. The pair reportedly met in the early 2000s, right around the time that Virginia Giuffre alleges she was forced to have sex with him. Andrew is thought to have proposed to Staveley in 2003. Staveley turned him down. If nothing else, at least she has that in her favor.
In fact, close relationships with awful men seem to be a theme throughout Staveley’s life. She mentioned a friendship with retail’s pariah in chief Philip Green during a Financial Times interview in 2011. She is also reportedly close to securing the sale of Newcastle United Football Club to a fund owned by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, a man who just this week was accused of ordering a group of assassins to Canada to kill a former intelligence official, while also sending the target “explicit death threats” via WhatsApp.
Andrew is thought to have proposed to Staveley in 2003. Staveley turned him down.
It’s too early to guess the direction of the Barclays trial, but if nothing else, it has helped to shine a light on the less than pleasant behavior of the bank’s leading figures. Phone transcripts reveal that Barclays executive Roger Jenkins—a former boyfriend of Elle Macpherson’s—and another executive referred to Staveley as both a “dolly bird” and “the tart” in conversations with colleagues during the deal (he has since apologized) and that his colleague Stephen Jones commented on the size of her breasts and wondered whether or not she was sleeping with Sheikh Mansour. Jones then called her “thick as shit” for good measure. (He resigned from his current job when word got out.)
While the world waits for the judge presiding over the Depp case to make his decision, it’s worth keeping an eye on this. There are blistering sums of money involved, and all parties are making absolute fools of themselves. This is just about as entertaining as High Court cases get.
Stuart Heritage is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL based in Kent, U.K.