A former Enron chief executive told skeptical lawmakers Tuesday that he did not lie to Congress when he denied knowing about the company's financial problems, months before Enron collapsed.
Appearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, former Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling testified that he was not aware Enron was in financial peril when he resigned last August.
Many Enron employees and stockholders lost their life savings when Enron collapsed in December in the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Mr. Skilling reiterated testimony he offered to a House panel earlier this month, that he did not know that company partnerships were used to conceal debts and inflate profits.
Lawmakers were incredulous. .
"Mr. Skilling, any way you parse this, you had the responsibility as CEO to watchdog this area of conflict," said Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. "I see no evidence that was done."
Another Enron executive, Sherron Watkins, sitting at the same table as Mr. Skilling, contradicted the former CEO when she was questioned by Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona.
"Is it possible in your view that Mr. Skilling was not aware of the accounting improprieties of the partnerships that led to the collapse of Enron?" the senator asked.
"In my opinion, Mr. Skilling was aware of the problems," Sherron Watkins answered.
A combative Mr. Skilling took issue with Ms. Watkins' testimony, and denied her previous testimony that he fooled Enron's former chairman, Kenneth Lay about the company's financial health.
"First, I have not lied to Congress or anyone else about my recollection while I was at Enron. Second, I never duped Ken Lay. I heard Ms. Watkins testify to her opinion. I have no idea what the basis is for her opinion," he said.
Mr. Skilling said he saw no reason to be concerned by Enron's partnerships because the company's auditors signed off on them.
Ms. Watkins and current Enron President Jeff McMahon testified that they had raised questions within the company about the accounting practices that led to the bankruptcy.
Besides Congress, the Justice Department and the Security and Exchange Commission are also investigating Enron's collapse.