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Presidential Taskforce on Corporate Corruption Begins Work

The president's new taskforce on corporate corruption started work Friday. The group is charged with arresting and prosecuting fraudulent executives.

President Bush established the taskforce amid a series of American business scandals that have shaken investor confidence and left thousands of workers without retirement savings.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said it is part of the administration's plan to crack down on corporate corruption and punish those responsible. "The taskforce function is to obtain information, to prosecute, to arrest, and to imprison corporate executives who engage in fraud and corruption," he said. "It is a very important part of restoring confidence in the economy and giving the American people faith that this government will take every action necessary against people who cook the books or change the numbers in any type of fraudulent way."

The taskforce joins officials from the Attorney General's office, the Treasury, the FBI, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The team began work with talks at the Justice Department Friday before sitting down at the White House with President Bush.

Following that meeting, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt said the taskforce is already following through on the president's request to hold corporate executives responsible for the accuracy of financial statements released to investors. "We have ordered the 1,000 largest companies to have their CEOs and CFOs certify the validity of their financial statements both filed and to-be-filed or otherwise explain why they cannot," he said. "That will happen in the next few weeks, and when that does, I think that will give us a very clear picture of what's around."

President Bush announced the taskforce in a speech on Wall Street Tuesday where he called for a new business "ethic" to restore investor confidence. Corporate corruption is becoming a big political issue for both parties ahead of November's legislative elections.

Some congressional Democrats have criticized the president for condemning corporate practices that he benefited from as a Texas oil executive, including low-interest loans to purchase company stock.

While the president's aides say prosecuting corporate corruption is a priority for the administration, Mr. Bush Thursday sought to downplay its importance in a speech in the Midwest state of Minnesota where he said the terrorist attacks of September 11 have led many Americans to question what is really important in life. "As a result of the evil done to America, there is going to be some incredible good here at home too," he said. "I believe people have taken a step back and asked, "What's important in life? The bottom line? This corporate America stuff, is that important? Or is serving your neighbor, loving your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself?""

The president continues efforts to boost investor confidence and counter political opponents with a speech on the economy Monday in the southern state of Alabama.