It has come to symbolise greed, scandal and corruption. A year after Enron collapsed – exposing America's biggest ever corporate fraud and sending world stock markets into a spin – the contents of the company's extravagant head office in Houston are to be auctioned off.
The three-day sale, which begins on Tuesday at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Houston, offers hundreds of top-of-the-range computers, antiques and even gas-guzzling Cadillacs and Chevrolets from the executive car park.
But the most sought-after of the 14,084 lots is a 4ft-high lump of tarnished metal that stood outside the entrance to Enron's glitzy 50-storey head office at 1400 Smith Street.
Bidding for "Lot 2E: Stainless Steel Tilted Lighted Enron E" is expected to be fierce."This is undoubtedly the star of the auction," said Ross Miller, co-author of What Went Wrong at Enron. "I would guess that people will bid upwards of $100,000 for the 'E'. The price could be very surprising indeed."
Enron's fall from grace – after it fraudulently concealed billions of dollars of debt in secret companies – was sudden and spectacular. At their peak, Enron shares were worth $90. Today, they can be bought for just 12 cents. If potential buyers wanted to bid for the steel "E" in stock, then they would probably need close on a million shares.
More modest items are also going under the hammer, from Enron flags and corporate trinkets to office chairs and fax machines. But lot 14022 stands out. It is a "Fellows PS70 paper shredder". The machine came to symbolise the Enron scandal after the company's auditor, Andersen, destroyed thousands of documents relating to its client.
A year after the collapse, no one involved is behind bars. But the US Justice Department is working its way up the Enron corporate tree. Last month, former chief financial officer Andrew Fastow was charged with 78 counts of money-laundering and fraud. Investigators hope the trial will uncover fresh evidence to allow them to bring more charges against executives.
In the meantime, it's not just the contents of the office that are up for grabs. While former chairman Kenneth Lay can still be found schmoozing with Houston high society on the country club scene, he has had to hoist a "for sale" sign over some of his 15 homes in Texas and Colorado.
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