Enron Chief Quizzed Over
Emails To Employees Just
Prior To Collapse


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay may have misled employees by telling them he expected the company's share price to go up just weeks before it started to collapse, a high-ranking House Democrat says.

Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, has asked Lay to respond by January 18 to a series of questions involving e-mail messages "you purportedly sent out to Enron employees about Enron's financial condition and stock price in August 2001."

Waxman, the senior Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, had already been seeking information about contacts between the White House and the now-bankrupt energy giant Enron.

Waxman asked Lay to verify whether he sent the e-mails and if so, whether he was aware at the time of Enron's "financial vulnerabilities."

"If it is true that you sent these e-mails, then it appears that you misled your employees into believing that Enron was prospering and that its stock price would rise," Waxman wrote.

Waxman also asked Lay to provide records of Enron communications assessing the value of Enron's stock price or financial condition.

"I also would like to know about your decision to prevent participants in Enron's 401K plan from accessing their retirement accounts and selling their plummeting Enron stock," Waxman wrote.

He said he received copies of the e-mails as part of his investigation of the collapse of Enron. His office released the e-mails along with Waxman's letter on Saturday.

"As I mentioned at the employee meeting, one of my highest priorities is to restore investor confidence in Enron," reads one e-mail, dated August 8 and carrying a return address from "".

"This should result in a significantly higher stock price."

The e-mail, whose recipient's name is blanked out, offers a stock grant of $36.88 a share. Enron shares were at 67 cents a share on Friday.

But Waxman said that at the time the e-mail was sent, Enron's stock price was $37, and "you had already sold $40 million of Enron stock during 2001 and over $100 million since October 1998."

Waxman noted that the price of Enron stock eventually fell to a low of 26 cents a share on Nov. 30, 2001.

Quoting from another e-mail, Waxman said that on August 14, "the day that Jeffrey Skilling resigned as (Enron) CEO, you stated, 'I want to assure you (employees) that I have never felt better about prospects for the company.'"

"Our performance has never been stronger; our business model has never been more robust; our growth has never been more certain; and most importantly, we have never had a better nor deeper pool of talent throughout the company," the August 14 e-mail reads.

"We have the finest organisation in American business today."

Robert Bennett, the Washington-based attorney for Enron, was not available for comment Saturday.

Several congressional committees are investigating Enron's collapse last year. The bankruptcy and the political storm surrounding it has prompted President George W. Bush to order a Treasury Department review of U.S. pension and corporate disclosure rules.
Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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