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Enron Ex-Chief Declines to Testify in Congress - 2002-02-12

Former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay invoked his constitutional right to remain silent before a Senate panel investigating the collapse of the company. The largest bankruptcy in U.S. history is also being probed by criminal and regulatory investigators.

Mr. Lay, as expected, invoked his Fifth Amendment* right to avoid self-incrimination by refusing to answer questions when he appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee.

But he made clear he was reluctantly doing so, on his lawyer's advice.

"I am deeply troubled about asserting these rights because it may be perceived by some that I have something to hide. But after agonizing consideration, I cannot disregard by counsel's instruction," he said.

Although Mr. Lay would not talk to senators, the senators had much to say to Mr. Lay.

Many, including Democrat Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, expressed anger and disappointment over the former Enron chairman's refusal to testify.

"It appears to me that we have seen a corporation here inside the records that I have seen consistently challenging and bending the rules, manipulating financial information to hide debts, and booking profits that did not exist," Mr. Dorgan said.

Many Enron employees and stockholders lost their life savings when the company filed for bankruptcy last December.

Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada blamed Mr. Lay for shaking investor confidence.

"We talk about the rule of law, transparency, and how it is so important for people to have confidence in how they are investing. I believe you bear a great deal of responsibility for shaking the confidence of us being able to export capitalism, of us being able to tell our story, and it is going to be a challenge for Congress, regulators, everybody involved, and the accounting profession to bring that confidence back to what it was," he said.

Mr. Lay is the sixth executive to remain silent before Congress in the Enron investigation. Four current and former officials did so last week, and the company's fired auditor declined to testify last month.


*The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.