Ebbers' lawyers on offensive in WorldCom hearing

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The Independent Online

The legal battle against the former chief executive of WorldCom, Bernie Ebbers, kicked off in New York yesterday with his lawyers attacking the credibility of the prosecution's star key witness.

The legal battle against the former chief executive of WorldCom, Bernie Ebbers, kicked off in New York yesterday with his lawyers attacking the credibility of the prosecution's star key witness.

Mr Ebbers, who attended the pre-trial hearing, is accused of orchestrating an $11bn accounting scandal which resulted in WordCom's collapse in the largest bankruptcy in history. If convicted, Mr Ebbers, a former basketball coach and motel manager, faces more than 30 years in prison.

Lawyers for Mr Ebbers made clear one of their chief strategies would be to question the reliability of Scott Sullivan, once WorldCom's top finance executive. This could even extend to questions about Mr Sullivan's alleged marital infidelity. US District Judge Barbara Jones denied a motion by prosecutors who sought to block such testimony, saying the issue of Sullivan's marital fidelity was relevant to his credibility.

Sullivan pleaded guilty last year to fraud.

Jury selection begins today, with the main trial due to start next week.

Also yesterday, the choosing of jurors began for the fresh trial of two former Tyco executives, chairman and chief executive Dennis Kozlowski and chief financial officer Mark Swartz, who are accused of looting the company of $600m. An earlier trial was abandoned after a juror was threatened.

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