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Lay invokes Fifth

Discussion / Activity

February 12, 2002 Posted: 5:15 PM EST (2215 GMT)
Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay gives brief remarks before he exercised his constitutional rights and refused to testify at a Senate  

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -- Former Enron Corp. Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay sat through 90 minutes of attacks from congressional investigators Tuesday before he declined to testify before a Senate panel probing the collapse of the former energy trader.

Lay, once mentioned as a possible energy secretary for the Bush administration, invoked his Fifth Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution against self-incrimination and refused to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Backgrounder: The fall of Enron 
Timeline: The demise of a company 
Spotlight: How does the Enron bankruptcy stack up? 

Lay, the latest Enron-related executive to refuse to testify, sat stone-faced through blistering attacks from Republican and Democratic senators on the panel. In fact, some of the most vicious attacks came from Republicans, whose party benefited heavily from Enron's generous political donations.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona., expressed his disappointment in Lay's decision not to testify. McCain read from a 1999 speech Lay gave, talking about "strength of character." Lay and other top executives of the bankrupt energy trader had failed to follow those words, McCain said.

Lay said he was deeply troubled about invoking the Fifth Amendment. "I come here today with profound sadness about what has happened to Enron, its current and former employees, and stakeholders," he said. "I have been instructed by my counsel not to testify based on my Fifth Amendment right. I cannot disregard my counsel's instructions."

Lay told the Senate panel that he will not answer questions of any other congressional committee and subcommittee. A Lay spokeswoman later confirmed that the former CEO will invoke his Fifth Amendment right at a separate House panel Thursday.

Enron's ousted chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow, also declined to testify last week. Fastow is credited as the mastermind behind the Enron partnerships that helped hide the energy trader's debts and ultimately led to a restatement of earnings that caused investors, customers and trading partners to lose confidence in the company. Enron filed the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history on December 2.

But former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling did speak last week and repeatedly told a congressional panel that he knew nothing of any off-the-books partnerships the company used to hide debt.

Skilling resigned last August from Enron, and Lay assumed his role as CEO of the energy trader.

Weekly Activities:
Updated September 21, 2002

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