Ebbers was key driver of WorldCom fraud, court is told

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The Independent Online

Bernie Ebbers, the former chief executive of WorldCom, had a firm grip on the details of the giant telecoms company's finances and was the key driver behind the $11bn (£5.7bn) fraud perpetrated at the company, a court heard yesterday.

Bernie Ebbers, the former chief executive of WorldCom, had a firm grip on the details of the giant telecoms company's finances and was the key driver behind the $11bn (£5.7bn) fraud perpetrated at the company, a court heard yesterday.

The statements came as part of an onslaught by US government lawyers keen to use Mr Ebbers' decision to take the stand in the Manhattan court to undermine the picture he has painted that he was ignorant of accounting methods and relied on his finance director, Scott Sullivan, to handle the details.

The assistant US attorney, David Anders, began cross-examining Mr Ebbers to try to show he and Mr Sullivan committed the fraud. Mr Sullivan has admitted widescale misrepresentation of WorldCom's finances and has become the star witness for the prosecution against Mr Ebbers, in return for receiving a lighter sentence.

When shown an internal WorldCom document in which he had asked for "all details" about budgeting, Mr Ebbers testified that "this is the fundamental basis" for company operations, and said "that was something I was involved in". Mr Ebbers, 63, had previously told the court: "I don't know about technology and I don't know about finance and accounting."

A key part of the prosecution's case is that as well as wanting to keep Wall Street happy, Mr Ebbers had a personal interest in making WorldCom's books look healthier than they were - to keep the heat off his finances, because he owed hundreds of millions of dollars in loans secured on his WorldCom holdings.

Mr Ebbers, who is accused of fraud, conspiracy and making false regulatory filings acknowledged that one decision he had made was over free coffee, which he withdrew after learning how much it cost the company. "I don't consider, when you're playing with shareholders' money, $4m to be a small number," he said. "If you look after the pennies, the dimes will take care of themselves."

The case continues.

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