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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Enron scandal at-a-glance
Clickable graphic The Enron scandal has far-reaching political and financial implications. BBC News Online reviews the key facts to help you make sense of developments.

In just 15 years, Enron grew from nowhere to be America's seventh largest company, employing 21,000 staff in more than 40 countries.

But the firm's success turned out to have involved an elaborate scam.

Enron lied about its profits and stands accused of a range of shady dealings, including concealing debts so they didn't show up in the company's accounts.

As the depth of the deception unfolded, investors and creditors retreated, forcing the firm into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December.

More than six months after a criminal inquiry was announced, the guilty parties have still not been brought to justice.

The investigators

A chorus of outraged investors, employees, pensionholders and politicians are demanding to know why Enron's failings were not spotted earlier.

And the US Justice Department is thought to be trying to charge several executives for fraud and money laundering.

Prosecutors have come to a deal with one insider, Michael Kopper, who will plead guilty and spill the beans about Enron's murky finances.

There is no date for a trial yet.

There has already been a far-reaching investigation into the scandal by a number of congressional committees.

Three key players appeared involuntarily and then refused to speak in order to avoid incriminating themselves:

  • Andrew Fastow: Former chief financial officer, sacked as the scandal unfolded, and alleged author of the deceptive accounting practices.
  • Kenneth Lay: Enron's former chief executive and chairman since 1986 refused to testify at the last moment after saying he had been pre-judged.
  • David Duncan: Enron's chief auditor at Andersen who shredded key documents relating to the case. It was his job to check Enron's accounts.

    Three senior executives did testify:

  • Joseph Berardino: Andersen's chief executive, vigorously defended his firm's role in the affair.
  • Jeffrey Skilling: Enron's chief executive in the first half of 2001 denied knowing that anything was wrong at the firm
  • Sherron Watkins: Enron employee and "whistleblower" of the scandal. She claimed that Ken Lay was 'duped' and placed the blame on Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow.

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    In line for a sell-off

    While investigations continue, Enron has sought to salvage its business by spinning off various assets.

    It has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, allowing it to reorganise while protected from creditors.

    Former chief executive and chairman Kenneth Lay has resigned, and restructuring expert Stephen Cooper has been brought in as interim chief executive.

  • Enron's core business, the energy trading arm, has been tied up in a complex deal with UBS Warburg. The bank has not paid for the trading unit, but will share some of the profits with Enron.
  • Centrica, part of the former British Gas, has bought Enron's European retail arm for 96.4m.
  • Dynegy, a smaller rival, has won a key pipeline in the US after merger talks fell through. The pipeline was then resold to Warren Buffet.
  • The power project in India's Maharashtra state - the biggest foreign investment project in India - is still for sale.

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    In line for reform

    That Enron's false accounting was not spotted sooner has prompted the accounting industry to take a hard look at itself.

    Hundreds of US firms which used so-called aggressive accounting methods to keep debts or one-off charges away from the headline figures have been affected.

    And Andersen, the former auditing giant, has collapsed after being found guilty of deliberately destroying evidence of its relationship with Enron.

    President George W Bush has passed a tough new bill aimed at cracking down on corporate fraud.

    And he has also ordered a review of US pension regulations, after Enron employees lost billions of dollars because their pensions scheme was heavily invested in Enron's own stock.

    Other issues earmarked for attention by reformers include:

  • The role of business funds in political campaigning.
  • The extent of energy companies' influence on national energy policy.
  • Potential conflicts of interest between consultancy and auditing work.
  • The need for tighter regulation on financial derivatives trading.

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    Political implications

    The scandal has also entered the political realm, because of Enron's close links with the White House.

    Enron provided millions of dollars to finance Mr Bush's 2000 election campaign.

    Mr Bush was a personal friend of Mr Lay, but has been quick to distance himself from any involvement with the firm.

    It has also emerged that Mr Lay called two US cabinet officers before the company filed for bankruptcy late last year.

    And the US Treasury Department has said one of its officials felt he was asked to help Enron last year by company president Lawrence Whalley.

    Enron executives also met Vice President Dick Cheney and his energy task force several times to discuss the administration's energy plan.

    Despite much mud slinging, there is no implication of guilt as yet.

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    UK fallout

    The British political repercussions of the Enron collapse centre around whether Labour's sponsorship from the company led to a change in government energy policy.

    Downing Street has dismissed allegations that the UK government is "enveloped in sleaze" over its links with Enron.

    The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are demanding an independent inquiry into what they say could be an affair about cash-for-access.

    Labour's relationship with Enron's accountants, Andersen, has also raised questions, especially as the firm was taken off the unofficial blacklist for government work, where it had been placed after the De Lorean car scandal in the early 1980s.

    The peer, a former Conservative energy minister, joined Enron as a non-executive director in 1994 and sat on the corporation's audit committee.

    Investigators say they do not believe Lord Wakeham was party to any fraud, but he could still face lawsuits from those who accuse him of failing to make public concerns about the energy giant.

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