Federal prosecutors in the United States have announced the first criminal charges in connection with last year's collapse of the giant energy trader Enron. The Arthur Andersen accounting firm is accused of obstructing justice for destroying documents related to the largest bankruptcy in American history. A federal grand jury in Enron's home town of Houston issued a single count indictment charging one of the nation's biggest accounting firms persuaded employees to hide or destroy tons of documents in the week's that led up to the Enron bankruptcy last December.
"The indictment catalogues allegations of widespread criminal conduct by the Arthur Andersen firm, charging that the firm sought to undermine our justice system by destroying evidence relevant to the investigation," said Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. Top Andersen executives have admitted lower level employees did shred potential evidence, but say senior management at Andersen's Chicago headquarters was not aware of it. They accuse the Justice Department of gross abuse of power for an act that could put the future of the firm in doubt.
Federal prosecutors want to know how Enron, the nation's seventh largest company, was able to report billions of dollars in profits while hiding debt that ultimately put the company out of business and left thousands of employees without jobs or their life savings.