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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
Enron whistleblower tells BBC all
Sherron Watkins
Sherron Watkins: Gave evidence at a Congressional hearing in 2002

It has been called the "fraud trial of the century". After 56 days in court the two former bosses of collapsed energy giant Enron, Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, are awaiting the jury's verdict.

The energy giant collapsed in 2001, with thousands of people losing their jobs and investments. It was Sherron Watkins, an Enron employee, who first raised the alarm about the scale of financial malpractice at the company.

A guilty verdict for both "would send the right message," she told the BBC World Service's Business Daily programme.

Mr Lay, 64, the firm's founder and former chairman, and Mr Skilling, 52, Enron's one-time chief executive, are accused of trying to hide $32bn (18bn) of debts at the firm.

Throughout the trial both denied any knowledge of the fraud committed at the company.

A string of former Enron managers are currently serving time in jail for their involvement in the scandal.

Nervous testimony

Ms Watkins became a well-known figure in the United States after testifying at a Congressional hearing in to Enron's collapse in 2002.

She also testified at the Houston trial, which could see both former executives jailed for more than 30 years.

Jeffrey Skilling was giving me the cold hard stare through out
Sherron Watkins on her experience of testifying in court.

In her interview she spoke of how difficult the experience was: "In many ways I found my testimony in court harder than in front of Congress."

"It was incredibly unnerving to be witnessing against two gentlemen sitting right there staring at you. It's odd."

Ms Watkins, who was honoured in 2001 by Time magazine as one of a trio of whistleblowers who uncovered professional misconduct and fraud in US companies, said that Mr Skilling was more aggressive towards her than Mr Lay.

"He (Mr Lay) was a more likable character. He takes notes, he looks down. He never tried to stare me out per se," she said.

"But Jeff Skilling was giving me the cold hard stare throughout."

Ignored warnings

Ms Watkins has no doubt that Mr Lay had knowledge of the company's perilous financial situation but chose to ignore the warnings.

She had previously sent Mr Lay an anonymous memo questioning the use of off-balance sheet financial partnerships, which the prosecutors say were then running up huge losses.

Ken Lay (left) and Jeffrey Skilling
Both Mr Lay and Mr Skilling have always protested their innocence

She said that Mr Lay had to take responsibility of the failure at Enron.

"In some respects yes. Because by warning him, by putting it in writing, by speaking in plain terms about what was wrong, it's almost like drawing a line in the sand," Ms Watkins said.

"By choosing to ignore it, not calling it really what it was I think it set him up for criminal charges. He made very positive statements about the state of the company, statements which in the light of my memo were hard to understand."

"(Their conviction will send the message) that you'll be held accountable if you make misleading statements contrary to your knowledge, if you look the other way and let criminal activities happen," Ms Watkins said.

Listen to the whole interview with Sherron Watkins by BBC's Lesley Curwen on the World Service's Business Daily programme on Tuesday, 22 May 2006.

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