Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Enron's Bankers Ask Appeals Court to Delay Trial

Bloomberg, Jef Feeley and Laurel Brubaker Calkins, 14 March 2007

Merrill Lynch & Co. and two other former Enron Corp. lenders asked an appeals court to delay an April 16 trial on claims they helped the bankrupt energy trader's executives manipulate earnings.

Lawyers for Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse Group and Barclays Plc urged the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to postpone the trial until it decides whether a lawsuit by Enron shareholders can proceed as a class-action, or group, case. The investors seek to recover as much as $40 billion in losses.

``It is essential to the parties, the public and the judicial system that a case of this size, complexity and importance be tried only once,'' the banks' lawyers said in the March 12 filing in New Orleans.

Enron was the world's largest energy-trading company, with a market value of as much as $68 billion, before it collapsed in December 2001. The bankruptcy, the second-largest in U.S. history after WorldCom Inc., wiped out more than 5,000 jobs and at least $1 billion in retirement funds.

Enron's investors accused the Houston-based company's banks of helping former Chairman Kenneth Lay and ex-Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling disguise debt as loans, finance sham energy trades and use off-the-books partnerships to hide losses and inflate revenue. The investors' lawyers said they will oppose the banks' request for a delay.

``It's time we get this case to trial,'' said Patrick Coughlin, who will be investors' lead lawyer during the trial. ``The banks always claim they're eager for their day in court, but the closer we get to court, the more noise they make.''

New York-based Merrill, Zurich-based Credit Suisse and London-based Barclays contend in court papers that shareholders shouldn't be able to press their suit as a group because they can't prove that the firms directly participated in the accounting fraud at Enron. U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon, who will preside over the trial starting next month in Houston, denied the banks' request for a delay in February.

Mark Herr, a Merrill spokesman, and Victoria Harmon, Credit Suisse's spokeswoman, declined to comment on the request for a delay. David Braff, a New York-based lawyer for Barclays, wasn't immediately available for comment.