Enron ex-boss breaks his silence

Kenneth Lay, Enron’s former chief executive, has spoken out for the first time since the 2001 scandal that shook corporate America to the core.

Mr Lay blamed the fraud on his finance chief, claiming to be one of the 98% of Enron employees who were “good, honest, hardworking individuals”.

Prosecutors have been trying to build a case against Mr Lay for over two years.

The government is expected to announce whether or not it will press charges in the coming days.

Enron, once a highly respected energy trading firm, went bust in December 2001 after it emerged that the company had concealed millions of dollars in debts.

Andrew Fastow, the firm’s chief financial officer, devised complex partnerships to hide the true state of affairs from investors. He has since pleaded guilty and accepted a 10-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors have been trying to broaden the case to Mr Lay who knew about the partnerships and was warned by middle-managers that they were based on false accounting methods.

As the depths of Enron’s murky finances became clear – and tens of thousands of employees lost their jobs and pensions – Mr Lay was vilified by the press, not least because of his close relationship with President George W. Bush.

Mr Lay refused to testify before various committees and inquiries on Capitol Hill and has previously limited his comments about the Enron affair to expressing his “profound sadness”.

Now he has broken that silence in an interview with the New York Times lasting more than six hours, in which he claimed that his friendship with the president had worked against him.

“If anything, being friends with the Bush family, including the president, has made my situation more difficult… because it’s probably a tougher decision not to indict me than to indict me.”

Mr Lay did, however, accept that as chief executive of the company he must ultimately be held accountable for what happened.

But he continues to deny that he was knowingly involved in criminal activity.

Many commentators have expressed disbelief that the corruption at the firm did not go right to the very top.

Mr Lay has also been heavily criticised for selling his own Enron stock while encouraging his staff to hold on to theirs.

Mr Lay, who now works as a consultant for two start-up firms in Houston, says his personal fortune has declined from $400m to less than $1m, legal bills notwithstanding.

“I know in my mind I did nothing wrong and nothing criminal,” he told the New York Times.

“If it [my indictment] does happen, it’s a great miscarriage of justice.”

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