Leading figure in Enron scandal shoots himself

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The Independent US

The Enron scandal took a sinister turn yesterday when a former vice-chairman of the failed energy group was found shot dead, having apparently committed suicide. J Clifford Baxter, 43, had resigned last May after protesting about the secret off-balance sheet partnerships that led to the biggest bankruptcy in American corporate history.

Mr Baxter's body was found in the driver's seat of his car, parked in a street in the residential Sugarland suburb of Houston, Texas, at about 2.30am yesterday. A police spokesman said he had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and had left a suicide note by his body. No details of the note's contents were available.

Mr Baxter, who joined Enron in 1991 and was made a vice-chairman in October 2000, was said to have been sought for questioning by Congressional investigators studying the Enron collapse.

He was one of the 29 Enron executives accused in a Federal lawsuit of selling $1.1bn (£800m) of shares in the knowledge that the company was reporting false figures. Between December 1998 and mid-2001 he is said to have sold 577,436 shares for $35.2m.

Mr Baxter had been singled out as a "whistleblower" for his protests at the way the company was hiding billions of dollars of debt. The Enron executive Sherron Watkins warned Kenneth Lay, the company's chairman at the time, in a letter about the risk of a giant accounting scandal: "Cliff Baxter complained mightily to [the former chief executive officer Jeff] Skilling and to all who would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions with LMJ." LMJ was one of the partnerships run by other senior Enron executives, used to keep its debts off the main books of the company.

But his protests were to no avail. In May 2001 Mr Baxter resigned, citing his desire to spend more time with his family. In the autumn, Mr Skilling departed abruptly, and last week Mr Lay himself also stepped down as Congressional hearings and a Justice Department investigation began.

Enron said in a statement yesterday that it was "deeply saddened" by the loss of "a friend and colleague".