Enron debts could reach $100B
Judge moves $10 billion Enron-Dynegy suit to Houston; SEC objects to Enron retention program.
April 12, 2002: 6:27 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Enron Corp. confirmed Friday that CEO Stephen Cooper told employees that debt and other claims at the bankrupt energy company could reach as high as $100 billion.

Cooper told a hotel conference room filled to capacity with about 1,400 employees Thursday that Enron's debt on its balance sheet is greater than he thought. Enron has about $40 billion in debt and other claims could hit $40 billion to $50 billion, Cooper said.

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Enron had previously estimated its liability to be about $40 billion, spokeswoman Karen Denne said.

Houston-based Enron, which plans to re-emerge from bankruptcy as a smaller company, will sell off its non-core assets and return to its roots as a natural gas pipeline company and distributor of energy. The company will focus on high-growth areas, such as Florida and California, and own pipelines and plants, he said.

But the Enron name will disappear and the company plans to pick a new one, Cooper said.

The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating Enron for possible securities fraud after the company, crushed by its massive debt load, filed the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history in December. The company allegedly used thousands of questionable partnerships to hide nearly $1 billion in debt and inflate profits.

Arthur Andersen LLP, Enron's auditor for 16 years before it was fired, is currently in talks to settle its own federal indictment for shredding Enron documents.

Enron hired Cooper, a turnaround specialist, in January. Since then, he has left several voice mails for employees. Thursday's meeting at the Hyatt Regency Houston was his first live presentation since taking the helm. Cooper is set to present Enron's business plan to creditors in May, Denne said.

Cooper told employees at the meeting that Enron could also pursue lawsuits against other defendants. The turnaround specialist has said that Enron could sue its auditor Andersen and law firm Vinson & Elkins. Former executives have also been named as potential targets. Vinson & Elkins is the law firm ex-CEO Kenneth Lay asked to investigate the company's questionable accounting.

Layoffs may also be imminent at the company, Cooper said. After Enron filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 2, the company laid off several thousand workers and possible new cuts would be "not unsubstantial," Cooper said. But he said that, for the moment, layoffs are being put on the back burner because a lot of employees are leaving the company on their own.

"At the moment [cuts] are not an issue because attrition is moving faster than any organizational reduction," he said.

As expected, the once mighty energy company has suffered its own employee exodus and a number of workers have left recently. Enron's work force has fallen to 23,000 from 31,000 before the December bankruptcy. An Enron source told CNN/Money Friday that 40 people have left Enron's tax department in the past two months, leaving the number of employees at the unit at 110.

Enron declined comment on how many employees it has lost, referring to Cooper's statement Thursday during the presentation.

Enron-Dynegy lawsuit moved

Separately, New York Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Gonzalez ordered that Enron's $10 billion lawsuit against Dynegy Inc. be moved to Houston from New York.

Dynegy had planned to acquire Enron in November, but opted out of the proposed deal when Enron's credit was cut to junk status. Enron filed for bankruptcy protection Dec. 2 and on the same day hit Dynegy with a $10 billion breach-of-contract lawsuit.

Gonzalez approved Dynegy's request for a move to Houston, where both companies are located. The change would be more convenient for the many witnesses that reside in the area and will make the litigation more economic and efficient, Gonzalez said in the order.

Judge Melinda Harmon, who is overseeing the shareholder litigation against Enron and Andersen's pending trial on its federal indictment, is also very familiar with the issues, he said.

"We appreciate Judge Gonzalez's careful and reasoned approach to ruling on the change of venue, and we believe moving the case to Houston will provide the parties with the quickest, most efficient and least expensive way to resolve this case," a Dynegy spokesman said.

Also Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission objected to an Enron retention program that would pay unidentified employees $140 million.

Enron, on March 29, asked Judge Gonzalez to approve its retention program that would help the company keep critical staff, including many senior executives.

The SEC objected because Enron has not identified which individuals would receive the payments or what standards were used to determine how much each would be paid.

"The motion should not be approved by the court unless Enron substantiates its request with an evidentiary record that discloses the specific terms of the Key Employee Retention Program and how it will benefit the estate," the agency said Friday in court documents.

Enron said in March that a management committee would identify up to 1,285 critical persons who will share in a pool that won't exceed $40 million. The committee can determine who will and won't receive the bonus and in what amount, court documents said.

The company also failed to identify which persons are eligible for liquidation incentives and who will share a pool of up to $90 million, the SEC alleged. The committee is again responsible for who can receive the payments and their amount.

Another 842 employees, who are not eligible for retention or liquidation, can take part in a third component, or the severance pool which will not exceed $7 million. But Enron failed to identify the seniority level of those persons who will participate in the group or the maximum value that can be paid to any employee, the SEC claimed.  Top of page