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Andersen found guilty in Enron case

HOUSTON -- Arthur Andersen was convicted on Saturday of obstructing justice by shredding Enron-related documents in a verdict that could be the death knell for the shattered accounting firm. The guilty verdict also boosts prosecutors` efforts to get to the bottom of the Enron scandal.

The 12-member jury took 72 hours over 10 days to decide that the destruction of paper and computer files was not routine housekeeping, as Andersen contended, but an attempt to thwart federal regulators investigating Enron.

Andersen faces up to five years of probation and a fine of up to US$500,000.

It also could be fined up to twice any gains or damages the court determines were caused by the firm`s action and barred from auditing publicly traded companies - likely putting the crippled firm out of business.

On Friday, the judge gave jurors greater flexibility to reach a guilty verdict by ruling they didn`t have to agree on who committed a crime as long as they all believed someone at the firm `acted knowingly and with corrupt intent.`

US District Judge Melinda Harmon will determine the firm`s sentence. There was no immediate word from the defence team.

The verdict is also a potential boon for prosecutors trying to get to the bottom of the Enron debacle. They have argued that Andersen had intimate knowledge of the complex off-the-book partnerships which Enron used to boost its image of financial health before its collapse into bankruptcy last December.

The energy trader is under a grand jury investigation, as well as scrutiny from Wall Street regulators and Congress.

Prosecutors spent a month presenting testimony from employees, federal regulators and FBI agents. They also showed jurors mounds of documents, emails and handwritten notes they said proved Andersen had covered up a scandal.

Their key argument was that Andersen - just before regulators began investigating Enron - suddenly promoted a little-used document policy as a signal to its Enron audit team to begin destroying files.

The star prosecution witness was David Duncan, the former Andersen partner who was in charge of the Enron audit team.

He pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in April and spent nearly a week on the witness stand, telling jurors that he had signed an agreement with Andersen to present a united front that neither did anything wrong.

Duncan could get up to 10 years in prison at sentencing on Aug 26.

Andersen was indicted for obstruction of justice in March after talks to settle allegations of wrongdoing broke down. The firm has lost more than 650 of its 2,300 public clients. -- AP


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