- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday called the "malignancy of corporate corruption" a threat to the U.S. economy, warning it "destroys workers' incomes, decimates families' savings and casts a shadow on the health, integrity and good name of American business itself."
In a speech to the several hundred federal task force prosecutors at a Justice Department conference, Mr. Ashcroft said the country's trust in its business leaders had been shaken by incidents of "deception, fraud and malfeasance" involving officials at some of the nation's top companies.
"The success of the free market depends on a marketplace of integrity a marketplace that operates on information of integrity. Reliable, truthful information is the unseen force that drives the economy," he said. "But when information is falsified, the invisible hand that guides our financial markets is replaced by a greased palm.
"The goal of law enforcement, then, is clear: information cannot be corrupted. Trust must not be abused. Confidence must be sustained. America's marketplace of integrity must never be contaminated by a culture of greed," he said.
The Justice Department's corporate fraud task force, headed by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, was created this summer to take what Mr. Ashcroft called a "tough, new, cooperative approach to the real-time enforcement of our corporate fraud statutes."
The task force has since brought indictments against Arthur Andersen LLP, auditors of the now-bankrupt energy-trading giant Enron, for obstruction of justice; accepted guilty pleas from Andersen's global managing partner and former Enron executive Michael Kopper; indicted two WorldCom executives for securities fraud and conspiracy; and indicted a former trader for Allfirst Bank on charges of bank fraud and falsification of records.
"The vast majority of American business leaders are responsible, honest men and women," Mr. Ashcroft said. "But left unchallenged, corporate cultures that foster criminal behavior have an impact felt far beyond the corporation itself.
"Investors lose savings. Employees lose jobs. Families lose providers. And American markets lose integrity in the eyes of our citizens and the world," he said, adding that in the face of such damage, prosecutors, investigators and regulators did not have the luxury of time.
"We simply cannot afford to wait to challenge corporate corruption until jobs are lost, retirement funds are depleted and confidence is destroyed," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft said the Justice Department was working with the Securities and Exchange Commission to bring about enforcement of the nation's corporate fraud statutes.
He said investigations and prosecutions have been "carefully executed but quickly paced" to end criminal activity before jobs, investments and assets are squandered.
"We must work together. We must work swiftly. We must pursue allegations of corporate fraud regardless of the size or the prominence of the company under scrutiny. And in response, those corporations under investigation have a fateful decision to make," he said.


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