- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

HOUSTON (AP) — Former Enron Corp. Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling, facing 28 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors, appeared to bridle yesterday at being labeled a liar and a crook by federal prosecutors.

He told jurors in his criminal trial that he was devastated the company he cherished became a symbol for scandal.

“I think they have purposely not looked at facts they should have looked at if they wanted to come to a more balanced and accurate conclusion,” Mr. Skilling said with hardened eyes and a stiff jaw.

His comments came as defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli led him through the government’s indictment, which accuses him of minimizing bad news in 2001 so investors and Wall Street would remain bullish on failing Enron ventures in broadband and retail energy.

Mr. Skilling almost took over the questioning, interrupting when Mr. Petrocelli said, “Let’s go on to the next sentence” in the indictment, with a tense, “Yes, let’s go on to the next sentence.”

Finally, he tried to rein in his visible anger.

“I’m sorry, I have to calm down here,” Mr. Skilling said in a tight voice.

Rather than return to routine questioning, Mr. Petrocelli let the plainspoken ex-CEO known for speaking his mind roll with it.

“These are serious accusations?” Mr. Petrocelli asked.

“These are serious accusations,” Mr. Skilling repeated tightly. “This is a total misrepresentation, in my view, of the state of events that was occurring at the time, and I believe it would be very easy for someone to confirm that if they had any interest in confirming that.”

He and his co-defendant, Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay, have complained that witnesses who could corroborate their claim that no fraud occurred at Enron won’t step forward for fear of being targeted by prosecutors. Mr. Skilling has also said that the ex-Enron executives who have pleaded guilty to crimes cut deals with prosecutors — even though he says they did nothing wrong — out of fear of expensive trials and lengthy prison terms.

Mr. Skilling said he was crushed, not only because Enron spiraled into bankruptcy proceedings in December 2001, but also because there had been “a lot of damage to individuals subsequent to that, which was not a result of facts, or what really happened, but a result of rewriting of history to accomplish certain objectives people have that are not consistent with what happened in the company.”

“Did you believe you firmly had your hand on the wheel?” Mr. Petrocelli asked.

“Yes, I did,” Mr. Skilling replied.

“Did you think you were defending your company?” the attorney pressed.

“Yes, I did,” Mr. Skilling said.

“Did you think you had to lie to defend your company?” Mr. Petrocelli asked.

“No, I did not,” the ex-CEO said.

Prosecutors purport Mr. Skilling and Mr. Lay repeatedly lied to investors and employees about Enron’s health, using false optimism to hide weak business ventures and accounting tricks to create an image of success. They attribute the failure of what was once the country’s seventh-largest company to bad publicity and lost market confidence.

Much of Mr. Skilling’s testimony since he took the witness stand on Monday has featured his fond memories of leading the transformation of a staid pipeline company to an energy giant that pioneered new trading markets.

“I bled Enron blue,” he told jurors yesterday, invoking a company slogan for loyalty. “I believed in this company. I believed this was a fine company [in 2001] … a vibrant company in fact having some of the best financial performance in the history of the company.”

Prosecutors have presented a string of witnesses — including eight ex-Enron executives who have pleaded guilty to crimes — who gave a starkly different view than the defendant. They bolstered government contentions that Mr. Skilling knew Enron turned to fraud to appear successful — or at least he knew some divisions were struggling when he said publicly they were strong.

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