Ex-Auditor of Enron Refuses to Testify Before Congress
Ex-Auditor of Enron Refuses to Testify Before Congress
DAVID STOUT . NY Times . 24 january 2002
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 A former partner with Arthur Andersen who was the lead auditor for the Enron Corporation invoked his Fifth Amendment rights today before a Congressional panel investigating Enron's collapse.
The witness, David Duncan, who was fired by Andersen after numerous Enron documents were destroyed, invoked his constitutional right in a brief appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Senior executives of Andersen said Mr. Duncan, and not the accounting firm, was responsible for destroying documents.
With crisp courtesy, Mr. Duncan was welcomed by the panel's chairman, Representative James C. Greenwood, Republican of Pennsylvania, who swore him in and invited him to give a brief summary, if he so chose.
"I have no summary, sir," Mr. Duncan replied.
"O.K.," Mr. Greenwood said.
A moment later, Mr. Greenwood told Mr. Duncan, "Enron robbed the bank, Arthur Andersen provided the getaway car, and they say you were at the wheel."
The chairman went on to ask Mr. Duncan if he had given an order to destroy company documents to "subvert governmental investigations." In response, Mr. Duncan said that he "would like to answer the committee's questions" but would not under advice of counsel.
"Will you invoke your Fifth Amendment rights in response to all of our questions here today?" Mr. Greenwood asked.
"Respectfully, that will be my response to all your questions," the taut-faced Mr. Duncan said.
"I'm disappointed to hear that," Mr. Greenwood said. The chairman went on to say that Mr. Duncan's refusal to testify "will hamper the important work of this committee in our search for the truth about what transpired at Andersen during the critical period we are examining."
Mr. Greenwood then thanked the witness for his short appearance, told him he was excused and said, "Perhaps we'll see you on another occasion."
Mr. Duncan's lawyer had previously told the committee in a letter that the former Enron auditor would "rely on his Constitutional right not to testify" unless he is given immunity.
The collapse of Enron, the Texas-based energy company that had wide political influence, will be the subject of several hearings on Capitol Hill. The episode is also being investigated by the Justice Department for possible criminal wrongdoing. The Securities and Exchange Commission has also begun an inquiry.
Among the questions the various investigations will address are whether Enron's accounting practices were misleading (and whether Andersen, one of the Big Five accounting firms, played a role in any deception), and whether Enron defrauded investors by concealing Enron's shaky financial condition.
Mr. Duncan was fired by Andersen earlier this month for what the accounting firm said was his role in shredding documents related to the Enron audit. Mr. Duncan has said, through his lawyer, that he was following orders from an Andersen lawyer, and that he is cooperating with investigators.
Top Enron officials have disputed that version of events. Dorsey Baskin Jr., managing director of Andersen's professional standards group, told Mr. Greenwood's committee that Mr. Duncan held a meeting on Oct. 23 to expedited the destruction of Enron-related documents, just after the S.E.C. began its inquiry.
Mr. Baskin said Mr. Duncan's effort was "undertaken without any consultation with others in the firm."
Nancy Temple, a lawyer at Andersen, denied to the committee that she had tried to encourage the destruction of Enron documents when she sent out a memo on Oct. 12 on the firm's policy on document retention and deletion. She said she did not order Mr. Duncan to shred documents.
And C.E. Andrews, the head of Andersen's global auditing, said the destruction of Enron documents was "totally inappropriate" and a violation of the firm's policies that resulted in Mr. Duncan's dismissal.
Some lawmakers have publicly warned Andersen not to try to make Mr. Duncan a scapegoat, and that sentiment was reiterated today by one committee member, Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida. "Is Mr. Duncan being made a scapegoat?" he asked in his opening comments.
Mr. Duncan's appearance came hours after fresh developments in the burgeoning Enron affair. Mr. Greenwood said on Wednesday that his panel's investigators have discovered that dozens of Andersen employees had been busy shredding Enron-related documents, even after the accounting firm knew investigations were under way.
And late Wednesday, Kenneth L. Lay resigned as Enron's chairman and chief executive, saying that the various inquiries were too distracting and that Enron needed a leader who could devote all his time and energy getting the company back on its feet.
Almost simultaneously with the hearing before Mr. Greenwood's panel, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee was beginning its own hearing into the Enron affair on the other side of the Capitol.
Although there may be some overlap in the various investigations, the various Congressional committees do have different bailiwicks. For instance, Mr. Greenwood's panel in the House will focus on the supervision of Enron by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the treatment of employees' retirement funds and related issues. And the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will look into Enron's relationship to the Bush administration and federal agencies' supervision of the company.
There are many questions about the Enron affair, but some things are known already. In its heyday, it was a generous benefactor to politicians of both parties. The company went from an apparently prosperous business to a shadow of itself in a dizzyingly short time, and its stock fell accordingly. And some high Enron executives sold their stock while it was still valuable, reaping millions in profits, while more modest investors lost their savings as the stock sank well below a dollar a share.