Former Enron boss takes stand in fight 'to death' to clear name

As he took the stand to defend himself against 28 counts of conspiracy and securities fraud, Mr Skilling painted Enron as a robust company brought down, not by fraud committed on his watch, but by panic among the company's creditors after he left.

It was an intimation of his own mortality, rather than a premonition of Enron's imminent collapse, that led him to quit suddenly in 2001, he told the jury in Houston, Texas, yesterday. And in one of the most startling revelations of the trial so far, Mr Skilling said he had suggested that the board re-hire him to restore the confidence of Wall Street in the weeks before the company went under.

Adopting a humble tone that contrasted sharply with his bombastic image during Enron's pomp, he declared himself "a little nervous" about his testimony. "I guess that in some ways, my life is on the line," he said.

Mr Skilling quit in August 2001, the prosecution alleges, because he knew Enron was a house of cards built on accounting trickery. Within four months, it has collapsed under the weight of $30bn (£17bn) of hidden debt, shaking the foundations of corporate America.

But he had resigned, he said, after realising he was "obsessed" and close to burning out. A fatal accident at an Enron-owned power station helped make up his mind to spend more time with his family. "It said to me that life is short," he said. "I was changed." Mr Skilling's wife Rebecca led a phalanx of family members in court to offer support for his make-or-break testimony, which could last into next week. His children, ex-wife and other friends were also in the front row of the public gallery, and many appeared close to tears as he took the stand.

Over the past two months, the prosecution has painstakingly pieced together evidence that the fraud went right to the top, and the defence has had little choice but to put its men on the stand. Kenneth Lay, the former Enron chairman, who faces six charges, will testify in a few weeks.

The pair had transformed Enron from an old-style power company to a giant corporation trading energy on the financial markets. It was the seventh biggest company in the US at its peak, when it was valued at more than $70bn. The company was inflating profits and obscuring massive liabilities through a string of off-balance sheet vehicles set up by a Skilling protégé, the chief financial officer Andrew Fastow, who has agreed to serve a 10-year prison term in exchange for testifying against his former bosses.

The Justice Department's Enron task force has wrung guilty pleas from 19 Enron employees and advisers, most of whom are innocent, Mr Skilling claimed yesterday. He, though, was not going to agree to plead guilty. "It is not in my nature not to fight," he said. "I will fight these charges until the day I die."

Under questioning from his defence attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, he told jurors how he had "gone to pieces" as he watched the company collapse and 20,000 employees lose their livelihoods. Concerned about his drinking, friends told him to get a lawyer and a psychiatrist. "I didn't think I needed a lawyer," he said. "I got the psychiatrist before I got the lawyer." He argued that Enron had been a robust company but that short-sellers, who were betting the Enron share price would fall, created a panic by feeding inaccurate information to the press. When creditors called in their loans, the company's bankruptcy in December 2001 became inevitable.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Reach Volunteering: Trustee – PR& Marketing, Social Care, Commercial skills

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...

Reach Volunteering: Charity Treasurer

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Crossroads Care is s...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000: SThree: We consistently strive to be ...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin