Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Is Jeffrey Skilling innocent?

Yes, that Jeffrey Skilling of Enron fame! I followed this story and watched the film and like most was convinced of his guilt and as someone who had many privileges I felt his jail term of 24 years was harsh but it did send a message to other people in similar positions.

Well, incredible as it may seem the Economist is carrying and article that suggests he could have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice:

On March 14th, evidence emerged that government prosecutors may have misled the court and Mr Skilling’s defence team about the content of interviews with key witnesses, including Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer.

Mr Fastow’s testimony was widely regarded, not least by the prosecution, as crucial to securing Mr Skilling’s conviction: it was the only direct evidence that Mr Skilling actually knew about the various frauds at Enron for which he was found guilty. Yet the new document reveals that, at least in his early interviews with the FBI, Mr Fastow did not appear to implicate Mr Skilling as unequivocally as he did when he testified in court. Indeed, on crucial points, his original answers appear to exonerate Mr Skilling.

So how did this come about and why has it taken so long?
Why is this inconsistency only now coming to light? Rather than handing over the original interview notes, the government instead produced a composite summary. This is standard practice, but the summary must accurately reflect what was said. Mr Skilling’s defence team, after eventually persuading the court to order the government to hand over its original notes, makes a strong case that the summary of Mr Fastow's interview omits details in a way that consistently favours the government.

Now if this is true this is, IMHO, just as big a scandal as the original offence. It shows the State has no regard for the truth or due process and was just after a conviction, come what may. And people wonder why we get so wound up about the need to control the state and have safeguards in place.

Having said that, for a CEO to have not known what was going on is still somewhat incredible and if he didn't he deserves some punishment for incompetence, but that would be up to the shareholders not some zealous prosecutor.

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