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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
Big banks said to be linked with Enron
Anti-Enron protestor
Angry Enron investors have implicated six big banks
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David Schepp
BBC News Online North America Business Reporter

Further questions about Wall Street's relationship with failed energy-giant Enron have been raised amid speculation that as many as a half-dozen well-known investment banks may be added to a shareholder lawsuit.

The financial powerhouses include such familiar names as Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank.

Lawyers on Monday are expected to seek an amendment to the massive suit to include the six banks and two law firms for providing financial services and advice that may have helped lead to Enron's collapse.

The existing class-action lawsuit filed last autumn, which names 29 top Enron officials and its embattled auditor Andersen, has been frozen ever since Enron filed for bankruptcy last December.

Among those named in the original lawsuit are former chairman and chief executive Kenneth Lay and another former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling.

Colourful past

Enron's Houston headquarters
The scandal has moved beyond Enron's Houston headquarters
The expanded lawsuit now increases the scope of the scandal far beyond Enron's Houston headquarters and Chicago-based Arthur Andersen, part of Andersen.

It also renews scrutiny focused on New York's financial community, itself a past target of lawsuits in response to unscrupulous financial dealings.

Wall Street is well littered with scraps of scandal that include infamous characters such as junk-bond trader Michael Milken and Marc Rich, the secretive commodities trader who was indicted in 1983 and pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

The investment banks expected to be named on Monday made loans and provided other financial services for Enron and were staunch backers of its stock when Enron's share price began to fail last summer.

Separately, a federal judge overseeing the Enron bankruptcy case has tentatively agreed to appoint an independent examiner.

The judge in the case, Arthur Gonzalez, is expected to issue an order on Monday officially appointing the outside examiner.

Among other duties, the examiner would be given the authority to investigate the wrongdoings of Wall Street banks that helped lead to Enron's collapse.

The examiner will be held accountable to the bankruptcy court not to the creditors committee, made up of banks, law firms and others who had financial dealings with Enron.

Reconfiguring stock options

The judge's decision was viewed as victory by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and lawyers representing pension funds that lost billions of dollars in Enron stock.

The chairman of the SEC, a government agency that serves as ombudsman for investors, has been widely criticised for failing to take action in wake of the Enron debacle.

Merrill Lynch's London offices
Merrill Lynch touted Enron stock
But in a speech on Thursday, SEC chairman Harvey Pitt offered a proposal that would put stock options offered to executives up before a shareholder vote, signalling a shift in his stance.

"Companies should be required to make full disclosure and submit such plans to a shareholder vote," the securities chief said during a speech in Chicago.

Enron executives have come under fire for raking in millions by selling shares of stock even as employees enrolled in the firm's pension scheme were prevented from doing so.

Mr Pitt said options should be structured in such a way to not create an windfall for executives unless they demonstrate long-term growth and success.

"It seems to me that options are potentially troublesome if they are structured to reward short-term performance," he told an audience at Northwestern University.

The BBC's Mike Sargeant
"The consequences for the financial world could be huge"
See also:

01 Mar 02 | Business
CSFB in Enron probe
26 Feb 02 | Business
Bitter row dominates Enron hearing
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