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Former Enron executives face fresh charges

New charges of criminal fraud, insider trading and money laundering were brought yesterday against nine former senior Enron executives. They include the chief financial officer Andrew Fastow and his wife, and virtually the entire top management of the group's short-lived internet broadband services unit.

The counts, formally unveiled in a Houston court, are the latest batch of charges brought by the US government in its inquiry of the $76bn (£48bn) energy group's collapse in 2001, at the time the largest corporate bankruptcy in US history.

The indictments, a Justice Department statement said, "are a significant milestone in our unabated efforts to expose and punish the vast array of criminal conduct related to the collapse of Enron Corporation". That investigation has already led to the conviction – and effective disappearance – of Enron's former auditor, Arthur Andersen.

For the first time the criminal focus has switched to the internet concern, Enron Broadband Services (EBS), a failure egregious even by Enron's standards. EBS, prosecutors say, never generated any revenue during its existence, terminated just before the parent company unravelled in autumn 2001.

Yet the indictments, paralleled by a separate civil complaint filed here yesterday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, accuse five top executives of EBS of netting $186m by unloading Enron stock, even as they knew the subsidiary they ran was on the brink of failing.

But the moves that will attract the most notice are those against Mr Fastow and his wife Lea. Even before yesterday, Mr Fastow was already the most senior Enron officer in criminal trouble, facing 78 counts of embezzlement, fraud and insider trading. A further 31 charges have now been brought.

At the same time Mrs Fastow, a former assistant Enron treasurer, is being charged on six counts, including conspiracy to money launder, failing false tax returns and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Mrs Fastow yesterday turned herself in at the Houston offices of the Internal Revenue Service.

Her husband is due to appear at a hearing in Houston on 19 May which will decide whether to extend his current freedom on bail of $5m. It was unclear last night whether the latest indictments will bring closer criminal action against Enron's two most senior executives, the former chairman Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, who quit as chief executive months before the final collapse.