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Andersen Fires Lead Enron Auditor
MICHAEL BRICK . NY Times . 21 january 2002

Arthur Andersen & Company, the accounting firm responsible for approving the Enron Corporation's financial statements, said today that it had dismissed one of its partners and taken disciplinary action against several others following its disclosure that numerous Enron-related documents had been destroyed.

These eight accountants and managers are the first people to be held responsible publicly for unethical conduct in a broad but still murky corporate scandal that is under criminal investigation and has raised questions for politicians and regulators in Washington.

Andersen dismissed David B. Duncan, the lead partner on the account. It placed three other partners responsible for the account, Thomas H. Bauer, Debra A. Cash and Roger D. Willard, on administrative leave.

"Based on our actions today, it should be perfectly clear that Andersen will not tolerate unethical behavior, gross errors in judgment or willful violation of our policies," said Joseph F. Berardino, the managing partner and chief executive of the firm.

The firm, which is based in Chicago, also said it would change the management of its Houston office, relieving four partners in that office of those responsibilities.

It disclosed that Mr. Duncan called a meeting on Oct. 23 to expedite the destruction of documents related to Enron's finances, after he learned that the Securities and Exchange Commission had requested information from Enron. Still, Andersen said it has not uncovered any evidence that employees destroyed the principal records of work done and the conclusions drawn, though it is still investigating.

Enron's Chairman Received Warning About Accounting (January 15, 2002)

The Transaction: Chief Used Stock to Repay Enron Loan, Lawyer Says (January 15, 2002)

The Auditors: Who's Keeping the Accountants Accountable? (January 15, 2002)

The Memorandum: Firm Releases Messages on Handling Documents (January 15, 2002)

The Response: Democrats Ponder How Wide a Net to Cast (January 15, 2002)

The 401(k) Administrator: Northern Trust Will Write Off $20 Million in Enron Loans (January 15, 2002)

The Auction: Details of a Trading Unit's Sale Are Delayed (January 15, 2002)

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"These activities were on such a scale and of such a nature as to remove any doubt that Andersen's policies and reasonable good judgment were violated," the company said in a statement.

About a week before the meeting called by Mr. Duncan, Enron had disclosed that it took $1 billion in charges for bad investments. By the day of the meeting, Kenneth L. Lay, Enron's chairman, was frantically working to reassure investors that there was no need for additional write-offs stemming from unusual financing activities.

The day after Mr. Duncan's meeting, the company's finance chief was ousted, and it became apparent that Enron could not meet its debt obligations. The company's trading partners quickly stopped doing business with Enron. With Enron's stock price plunging, a last-hope merger deal fell apart. On Dec. 2, Enron filed the largest bankruptcy in American history.

Since the White House disclosed last week that Enron executives contacted two cabinet officers, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, before its collapse, the investigation has reached a frenetic pace.

The Justice Department has consolidated a criminal inquiry in Houston, and members of Congress have suggested the possibility that justice has already been obstructed.

The company and Mr. Lay were major contributors to President Bush's political campaigns, and the collapse wiped away the bulk of many employees' retirement savings and cost other investors tens of billions of dollars.

Today, Senator Paul Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland and chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, asked for a separate inquiry by the General Accounting Office, along the same lines as an investigation ordered by the White House.

Senator Sarbanes highlighted the company's investment of retirement funds in its own stock, which less than a year ago traded for more than $80 a share, giving the company a stock market valuation of $70 billion. The company's senior executives sold millions of dollars worth of stock last year, while employees were not allowed to sell stock from their 401(k) retirement plans.

"The reported results of Enron's bankruptcy raise significant issues about the adequacy of our laws and their enforcement," Senator Sarbanes said. "It is in everyone's interest that corporate mismanagement and conflicts of interest do not increase the already significant inherent risks of company stock investment."

The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading in Enron's stock today as it moved to delist it. The exchange said it was delisting the stock, as well as related securities, because of "the expected protracted nature of the company's bankruptcy process and the uncertainty at this time as to the timing and outcome of this process."

Enron's stock last traded on Thursday at 67 cents, below the Big Board's threshold of a minimum average price of $1 for 30 consecutive days. Trading in the company's shares had been halted pending the release of details of the company's sale of its energy trading business to the investment firm UBS Warburg.

Today, Enron released the details of the UBS Warburg deal, which is a part of its bankruptcy negotiations.The company made it clear that UBS would pay nothing up front and assume no debt in acquiring the energy trading business. Rather, the purchase price would be a grant to Enron and its creditors of 33 percent of profits for the first three years. After that, UBS could begin buying back parts of Enron's share of profits in increments over the next seven years.

Enron's chief financial officer, Jeffrey McMahon, praised the agreement. "This is an extremely positive deal for Enron and its creditors that confirms the substantial value of Enron's trading operation," he said in a statement. "We believe this is a first step among many towards an overall plan of reorganization and planned emergence from bankruptcy."