- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

A bankruptcy judge yesterday approved an independent investigation of WorldCom Inc., the telecommunications company that Sunday filed the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.
The appointment of an examiner "will provide transparency to the process and enhance accountability," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement.
U.S. Trustee Carolyn Schwartz, a Justice Department official, made the request for an independent examiner in court papers and said in the documents that WorldCom agreed to the appointment. The U.S. trustee's office oversees bankruptcy cases.
The examiner will focus the investigation on charges of misconduct and mismanagement, according to court papers.
The examiner would have subpoena power to explore the transactions that led to WorldCom's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing for protection from creditors. The U.S. trustee could name the examiner within the week, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez will issue an order approving the scope of the investigation.
The examiner will submit a report to the bankruptcy judge within 90 days of the appointment.
Multiple investigations of WorldCom already are under way.
Criminal prosecutors at the Justice Department are investigating the company. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil-fraud charges against WorldCom last month, a day after the company disclosed that it hid $3.9 billion in costs to boost earnings. The House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Financial Services Committee also are investigating.
"Everyone is saying they don't trust the numbers. They want a set of numbers they can trust," said Rudy Baca, telecommunications analyst at Washington research firm Precursor Group.
WorldCom Chief Executive John Sidgmore predicted yesterday the company will emerge from bankruptcy as early as January after cutting 75 percent of its more than $30 billion in debt.
The reorganization "is not going to be a liquidation," Mr. Sidgmore said at a press conference in New York.
"The value in WorldCom is not in the switches and the pipes that we have underground and the hard assets," he said. "The value in WorldCom is in the 20 million customers and the brands. Breaking it apart is not going to help."
But analysts said WorldCom is likely to sell off some assets to generate cash.
"I think a viable business will emerge from bankruptcy. The question will be who owns it and what is the debt structure," New York bankruptcy lawyer Claude Montgomery said.
Mr. Montgomery disputed Mr. Sidgmore's prediction that WorldCom will emerge from bankruptcy as early as January.
"I can't envision a case that involves apparent accounting fraud coming out of bankruptcy in six months," he said.
At the initial bankruptcy hearing yesterday, WorldCom attorneys won approval from Judge Gonzalez for $2 billion in new bank loans to allow the company to continue operating during the bankruptcy proceeding. WorldCom will have $750 million of that money available immediately.
Company officials have said no more layoffs are planned. WorldCom already has announced plans to lay off 17,000 workers. WorldCom spokesmen also said yesterday the bankruptcy proceeding won't lead to interruptions in telephone or Internet service.
WorldCom Chairman Bert Roberts met with government officials yesterday to argue that the company intends to emerge from bankruptcy.
"[Business and residential customers] are accounts that WorldCom is pretty desperate to hold onto," said Rick Joyce, a lawyer who is head of the telecommunications practice at Washington law firm Alston and Bird.
Mr. Sidgmore said WorldCom hasn't lost "substantial customers" because of the accounting problems and subsequent bankruptcy.
Mr. Baca said he expects few of WorldCom's residential telephone customers to leave.
"But the problem is that those customers won't generate enough revenue for the company to pay its debt," he said.
WorldCom has 20 million business and residential customers.

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