Former Enron chief executives Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay were found guilty on Thursday of fraud and conspiracy charges related to the spectacular 2001 meltdown of the energy giant.
Skilling (52) was found guilty of 19 of 28 counts of fraud and conspiracy and faces a maximum penalty of 185 years in jail.
Enron founder Lay (64) was found guilty of all six charges relating to the period after he resumed chief-executive duties and faces a maximum of 165 years in jail.
The case, one of the most-complex corporate crime cases in United States legal history, represents the most high-profile test for the government’s crackdown on corporate wrongdoing.
The conviction was a vindication for the government’s Enron taskforce, set up in the aftermath of one of the worst scandals in recent history, which hurt confidence in corporate America.
Enron’s collapse was the biggest corporate bankruptcy in history at the time, precipitated by revelations that the company had used questionable accounting and arcane financing vehicles to hide an estimated $40-billion debt.
Lay and Skilling not only maintained their innocence, but asserted that Enron was financially sound and brought down by unflattering news reports and a conspiracy of short-sellers. Their defence team argued that the nine former Enron employees who implicated Skilling and Lay were coerced to lie in order to avoid costly trials and potentially steep jail sentences. — AFP