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Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 18:15 GMT
Coroner confirms Enron suicide
Police cars outside the home of former Enron vice chairman J. Clifford Baxter
The police discovered Mr Baxter's body on Friday
A coroner in Texas has ruled that Clifford Baxter, a former senior executive of the bankrupt US energy giant Enron, committed suicide.

Former Enron vice chairman J. Clifford Baxter
Mr Baxter resigned from Enron in May
Mr Baxter died from a self-inflicted "penetrating gunshot to the head", Harris County Medical Examiner's Office said.

The ruling confirmed earlier findings by a justice of the peace at the scene of death, who called for the autopsy because of the intense interest in the case.

Mr Baxter, 43, was found in his car in his hometown of Sugar Land, a suburb of Houston, Texas, on Friday. Police said a suicide note was found but have not disclosed its contents.

No Enron 'list' for investigators

In a separate development on Sunday, US Vice President Dick Cheney said that he would not provide Congressional investigators with a list of the business leaders that he met while forming the US energy policy.

The list is believed to include several Enron executives who may have influenced the administration's policy-making.

Mr Cheney told Fox News "it would make virtually impossible to have confidential conversations with anybody" if he gave out a list.

He added that he had already given numerous records to the investigators.

'Depressed' by scandal

A source close to the police investigation into Mr Baxter's death said he had written in the note that he could not stand the pain of the scandal, ABC news reported.

According to friends, he was depressed he might have to testify about the role his colleagues had played in the collapse of Enron, the biggest corporate failure in US history.

Ex-Enron employee Maureen Castaneda showing shredded Enron documents
The company is alleged to have shredded evidence of wrongdoing
Mr Baxter is said to have questioned the company's accounting practices before his resignation as the firm's vice chairman and chief strategy officer in May last year.

He was named in a letter written in September by an Enron whistle-blower, Sherron Watkins, who said he had clashed repeatedly with former chief executive Jeff Skilling over the firm's practice of hiding millions of dollars in debt in dubious deals with so-called shell companies.

But it has also emerged that Mr Baxter sold $9m worth of Enron shares between January and August 2001.

Many Enron executives have been accused of cashing in their stock options before the firm's share price crashed, and he has been named as a defendant in a shareholder lawsuit.

Two days before he died, he broke down in tears as he discussed the firm's collapse with a business colleague, the New York Times reported.

The associate said Mr Baxter "was talking about perhaps needing a bodyguard, although I'm not sure where that idea came from", the paper said.

Unprecedented failure

Enron began to collapse last October, brought down by huge debts and accusations of accounting irregularities.

Former Enron chief executive Jeff Skilling
Former Enron chief Skilling who Baxter reportedly clashed with
It filed for bankruptcy protection in December, after admitting that it had hidden huge losses from its books.

The Houston-based energy trading firm is now the focus of a criminal investigation and almost a dozen congressional inquiries.

The Enron collapse threatens to reach right to the heart of government, because of the company's close links with the Bush administration.

On Friday the White House said it had ordered a review of all US Government contracts with Enron and told auditors to ensure "a satisfactory record of business ethics and integrity".

Enron reaction

Enron issued a statement saying "we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and colleague".

John Clifford Baxter was born in 1958 in Amityville, New York. He joined Enron in 1991, moving swiftly through the ranks to become chairman and chief executive of Enron North America, before joining the firm's top echelon in June 2000.

He resigned only seven months after his promotion to "spend additional time with his family", but stayed on with the firm as a consultant.

At the time of his resignation, the then-chief executive of Enron, Jeff Skilling, praised his "creativity, intelligence, sense of humour and straightforward manner".

See also:

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