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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 05:42 GMT
Congress pursues former Enron boss
Protesters hold up effigy of Kenneth Lay outside World Economic Forum
Lay is reviled by the anti-globalisation movement
The former chairman and chief executive of collapsed US energy giant Enron could be forced to appear before a series of Congressional inquiry panels following his refusal to testify.

The Senate Commerce Committee will vote on Tuesday on whether to subpoena Kenneth Lay, who distanced himself from Enron by resigning from its board of directors on Monday.

Kenneth Lay
Kenneth Lay in less troubled days
The House of Representatives Financial Services Committee tried to serve a subpoena on Mr Lay earlier in the day, but Mr Lay's lawyer said he did not know his client's whereabouts.

Mr Lay was due to appear before the panels on Monday but withdrew after his lawyer said Congressmen had made incriminating statements.

Other executives have also said they will refuse to testify in the inquiries into the collapse, which cost pension funds, investors and banks millions of dollars.

Even if Enron executives are forced to appear, they could still invoke their right to silence under the US constitution, since a criminal investigation is also underway.

Senator Ernest Hollings, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said the panel would meet at 0930 (1430 GMT) "to get authority to issue a subpoena" for Mr Lay's appearance.

Mr Lay would be summoned to appear before the committee on 12 February, he said.


Judgements have been reached and the tenor of the hearing will be prosecutorial

Earl Silbert, lawyer of ex-Enron boss Kenneth Lay

Mr Lay's lawyer said he had cancelled his plan to testify because of investigators' "prosecutorial" attitude.

Mr Lay also pulled out of another planned appearance before a House of Representatives financial services sub-committee, scheduled for Tuesday.

The Senate Financial Services Committee, meanwhile, is due to hear evidence from the chief executive of Enron's auditor, Andersen.

The firm has admitted destroying a large number of documents relating to Enron's demise.

Evasion

Several Senate hearings aiming to discover what caused the largest bankruptcy in US history and how similar disasters could be averted in future, have already been sidestepped.

This week's Congressional hearings
Monday: Senate Commerce - cancelled
House Financial Services
Tuesday: Senate Governmental Affairs, House Financial Services
Wednesday: Education and the Workforce, Energy and Commerce
Thursday: Labor and Pensions, Energy and Commerce, Education and the Workforce
Mr Lay's lawyer, Earl Silbert, said comments by congressmen suggested that investigators had already made up their minds about his client's role in the company's demise.

"He was looking forward to a meaningful, reasoned question-and-answer session to provide his understanding of the events and to discuss a number of related policy, legal and regulatory issues," said Mr Silbert, adding that the company's downfall had been devastating for his client.

Silence expected

Mr Silbert said his client could not be expected to participate in proceedings if conclusions had been drawn before Mr Lay had spoken.

A 217-page report from a panel of Enron directors released at the weekend claimed that some of the company's top executives took millions of dollars "they should never have received".

The report also said Mr Lay had personally approved the partnership arrangements that led to key accounts being kept off the balance sheet, although he is not accused of making any personal financial gain.

Enron's former chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow, and former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling are still scheduled to appear before the Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, although they have indicated that they will refuse to answer questions from Congress.

Enron's collapse is being scrutinised by about a dozen Congressional committees, and is also the subject of a criminal investigation by the US Department of Justice.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Gregory
"The Enron disaster has created a climate of fear on Wall Street"
Former Enron employees' spokesman Mike Miller
"We feel betrayed"
Damon Silver, Enron employees lawyer
"The grant of immunity essentially compels testimony"
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