Duncan invokes fifth amendment rights

After Duncan told the hearing he did not have a testimony summary, chairman representative James Greenwood opened his questioning by saying: ‘Enron has robbed the bank, Andersen provided the getaway car and you were at the wheel.’

He went on to ask if Duncan destructed Enron documents in an attempt to subvert a government inquiry. The auditor answered: ‘On the advice of my counsel I respectively decline to answer based on the protection afforded by the constitution.’

‘Respectfully, this will be my response to all questions today,’ an anxious-looking Duncan added before he was dismissed from the hearing.

Although Duncan was forced by subpoena to appear at the House Commerce Committee hearing today, the auditor at the centre of the Enron scandal could not be forced to speak. He said he would only speak on the condition of legal immunity, a favour the Committee was not ready to grant.

Before calling for Duncan’s witness, Greenwood opened the hearing by expressing disappointment that Duncan had indicated he would not speak.

Greenwood said Duncan ‘has a lot of explaining to do’. He also said Duncan’s October 23 meeting and the subsequent document destruction were ‘hard to swallow given what Andersen knew by then’.

As part of his wish list for the hearing, representative John Dingell said he wanted to find out if these acts were ‘criminally stupid, stupidly criminal or both’.

Why send this memo on the day Enron announced the SEC investigation?, Dingell asked. ‘Why did anybody in their right mind think [document] destruction was appropriate?’ he added.

Dingell said he also sought answers about Enron’s ‘accountancy skulduggery’.

‘How did the lack of transparency go undiscovered or was it discovered and not told? Was it individual conceit or corporate conceit with a company thinking it was above the law?’

Meanwhile, representative Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee said he believes senior officials from Andersen were aware early on of Enron’s financial problems.

Speaking at the hearing Tauzin said evidence would emerge, which showed the level of involvement of top Anderson officials – that document shredding was probably more widespread than originally thought.

Andersen, in prepared testimony for the panel, blamed fired partner David Duncan for purposefully destroying ‘a very substantial volume of documents’.

The hearings are the first of nine scheduled over the next six weeks into Enron’s spectacular decline.

Andersen employees Nancy Temple, Michael Odom and Dorsey Baskins will also appear at today’s hearing.

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