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The heat is on! A flurry of Capitol Hill hearings into the collapse of energy trader Enron Corp. got under way Thursday as sacked Enron auditor David Duncan refused to testify. Duncan, the Arthur Andersen partner who led the audit of now-bankrupt Enron, invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself before Congress. He did so after lawmakers gave him no immunity from any prosecution based on his testimony. At the hearings Thursday morning, Rep. James C. Greenwood, R-Pa., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said to Duncan, “Enron robbed the bank, Arthur Andersen provided the getaway car and they say you were at the wheel.” The congressman then asked the embattled former auditor if he ordered the destruction of documents in order to undermine the government’s investigation, and if he was directed to do so. Duncan would not answer. “I would like to answer the committee’s questions, but on the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the question based on the protection afforded me under the Constitution of the United States,” Duncan said. “Respectfully, that will be my response to all your questions,” he told the committee. Greenwood then lashed out at Duncan for refusing to testify, saying his silence “will hamper the important work of this committee in our search for the truth.” The questioning was then directed to the other Andersen employees. Officials from Andersen defended the accounting firm’s document destruction policy, calling it a “sound audit policy.” In addition, they sought to shift the blame for the shredding of documents to Duncan. But the committee was not buying that argument, and some lawmakers warned Andersen not to seek scapegoats. The hearings started just a day after Kenneth Lay resigned as chairman and chief executive of Enron at the request of the company’s creditors. Meanwhile, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committees planned to question former regulators and other experts on whether the government failed to properly oversee Enron. Testifying before that panel is former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt. He called on auditing firms and Wall Street analysts to be more independent from the corporations they cover. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, testifying on the state of the economy before the Senate Budget Committee Thursday, accused Enron of abrogating the “good will” it enjoyed from the public and its own employees. Shares of Enron were quoted at 39 cents Thursday, compared with the $80 share price of a year ago. Copyright (c)2002 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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