Analysts Fooled By Trading Sham

Here's an old story about Enron. But it's so indicative of the whole Enron mess, that it's well worth repeating.

The following is an extract from an excellent book about the Enron affair - 'The Smartest Guys In The Room', by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind.

It was back in January 1998 and Enron was kicking off a new business, Enron Energy Services (EES). The company top brass was busy hyping up the unit and arranged for Wall Street analysts to come and have a look round EES's operations in Houston.

'The group (of analysts) was escorted to the sixth floor of Enron headquarters, where they were shown what was described as the EES war room. There, they beheld the very picture of a sophisticated, booming business: a big open room, bustling with people, all busily working the telephones and hunched over computer terminals, seemingly cutting deals and trading energy. Giant plasma screens displayed electronic maps......Commodity prices danced across an electronic ticker.

It was...(all) a veritable sham. The war room had been rapidly fitted out explicitly to impress the analysts....On the day the analysts arrived, the room was filled with Enron employees. Many of them, though, didn't even work on the sixth floor. They were secretaries, EES staff from other locations, and non-EES employees who had been drafted for the occasion and coached on the importance of appearing busy.

One, an administrative assistant.....recalls being told to bring her personal photos to make it look as if she actually worked at the desk where she was sitting; she spent most of the time talking to her girlfriend on the phone. After getting the all-clear signal, (the assistant) packed up her belongings and returned to her real desk on the ninth floor. The analysts had no clue they'd been hoodwinked'.

And finally, fast forward to now. The three British bankers accused of a multi-million pound Enron-related fraud have lost a UK court hearing against extradiction to the USA for trial. David Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew, who all deny wrongdoing, will appeal the decision. Lawyers acting for the three former NatWest bankers say that they would not get a fair trial in Houston and that the cost of defending the action over the pond is prohibitive. If extradicted and found guilty, the NatWest three could face up to 35 years in jail.

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