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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 05:24 GMT 06:24 UK
WorldCom agrees record fine
Bernie Ebbers
Mr Ebbers is under criminal investigation
Bankrupt telecoms firm MCI, formerly known as WorldCom, has reached an agreement to pay a record $500m (305m) fine to settle its accounting scandal.

It is the largest fine ever imposed by the US financial watchdog, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).

The fine was originally set at $1.5bn, but that figure was reduced to $500m after the firm filed for bankruptcy.

Despite the record value of the fine, one group of former WorldCom employees, BoycottMCI.com, denounced the settlement as "a slap on the wrist" and "an insignificant amount by any standard".

WorldCom's collapse wiped out nearly $180bn in shareholder wealth.

WorldCom is accused of falsifying its balance sheets to the tune of $11bn in order to inflate profits.

Under the settlement agreement, WorldCom neither admits or denies the charges.

The settlement must still be approved by a District Court Judge, who said he would consider the deal and rule on 11 June.

Illegal practice

Settling with the SEC should help MCI emerge from bankruptcy by the autumn, legal experts said.

OVER THE WORST?

The SEC charged WorldCom in June with fraud.

It alleged the company manipulated its financial records to meet Wall Street expectations.

The basis of the fraud was the illegal practice of reporting various rental expenses as capital investment, allowing the firm to appear vastly more profitable than it ever was.

"This $500m is really just a drop in the bucket," Robert Weiss, a lawyer who represents some of MCI's shareholders told BBC World Service radio.

Although a portion of the fine is likely to be allocated to shareholders, he said it remains far too difficult for investors to get their money back through the courts.

Criminal charges

Since its bankruptcy filing in July, WorldCom has hired a new chairman and overhauled its management team.

The company has also changed its name back to MCI.

Meanwhile, former chief financial officer Scott Sullivan has been charged with securities fraud, conspiracy, and making false statements about WorldCom's financial health in SEC filings.

Four other WorldCom executives have pleaded guilty to securities fraud and agreed to co-operate with investigators.

Two reports reviewing WorldCom's past accounting practices have been delayed at the request of prosecutors, who claim early public disclosure could harm criminal investigations into former WorldCom chief executive Bernie Ebbers and other former executives.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Robert Weiss, shareholders' lawyer
"This $500m does not even come close to compensating people for the fraud that they've suffered."



SEE ALSO:
Q&A: The latest on WorldCom
20 May 03  |  Business
WorldCom ex-chief 'lied for loans'
17 Apr 03  |  Business
WorldCom plans image change
14 Apr 03  |  Business
Worldcom makes a profit
27 Mar 03  |  Business
WorldCom posts mammoth loss
14 Mar 03  |  Business
WorldCom axes 5,000 staff
04 Feb 03  |  Business
WorldCom names new boss
15 Nov 02  |  Business
WorldCom fraud reaches $9bn
05 Nov 02  |  Business


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