Forget the congressional hearings. Forget the dozens of class-action lawsuits. And most of all, forget those tell-all books that are just starting to come out about the Enron mess. The real work in getting to the bottom of all those off balance sheet partnerships and complex financing deals is going on in the oft-ignored bankruptcy proceeding for the Houston-based company. Earlier this month, a special examiner in the bankruptcy case filed a mammoth motion seeking documents from some 200 financial institutions, law firms and accountants that had a hand in arranging at least 80 different off balance sheet partnerships and structured finance deals for Enron. The 185-page legal motion appears to be one of the most sweeping attempts by anyone looking into the Enron affair -- including some government agencies -- to try to unravel the labyrinth of mind-numbing transactions that brought Enron down. And if the examiner's motion is approved by the bankruptcy court, it means some of Wall Street's biggest banks and brokerages will have to turn over a treasure trove of documents that may finally spell out just how deeply they were involved in Enron's apparent scheme to inflate its earnings.
The list of Wall Street firms being asked to produce documents includes such well-known names as Credit Suisse First Boston, Citigroup ( C), FleetBoston Financial ( FBF), Goldman Sachs ( GS), J.P. Morgan Chase ( JPM), Merrill Lynch ( MER), Morgan Stanley ( MWD) and Wachovia ( WB). Also included are a host of lesser-known foreign institutions such as Allied Irish Bank, Arab Bank and Banco Popular. In all, more than 150 banks and brokerage are identified in court papers as having been involved in transactions either with Enron or one of the many special-purpose entities it created. The request is so massive that one lawyer in the case says it could lead to the production of millions of documents. "It's very sweeping," says the lawyer, who didn't want to be identified. "The request jeopardizes the forests of America and suggests that this inquiry will be lengthy to say the least." But the examiner, Neal Batston, a partner in the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird, says the massive request is justified given the opacity of Enron's deals. In court papers, lawyers from Baston's firm say that since Enron's "various structured transactions involved literally scores of financial institutions and counterparties," any comprehensive analysis of those deals "will necessarily entail far-reaching document discovery."
Attorneys for the banks, brokerages and law firms that are being asked to turn over the documents are likely to oppose some of the request at an Aug. 29 hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Gonzalez. One lawyer says the judge will be asked to scale back the request. Lawyers for Batson didn't return a phone call. And many of the four dozen law firms being asked to produce documents probably will claim that the attorney-client privilege prohibits them from complying with Batson's request. One of the firm's Baston seeks documents from is Houston-based Vinson & Elkins, the big corporate outfit that served as Enron's primary attorney for many years. Batson also intends to seek documents from Arthur Andersen, Enron's former auditor, which was convicted on an obstruction of justice charge in the federal government's criminal investigation of Enron. The examiner also wants documents from another big accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, which did some analysis for the infamous LJM2 partnership, established in 1999 by Andrew Fastow, Enron's former chief financial officer. The motion papers provide little detail about the kind of information he's seeking. Nor do the papers provide any information about the 80 deals and partnerships Batson is investigating, beyond their names. Some of the partnerships and financing deals Batson is investigating are familiar names to anyone that's been following the Enron affair. These include the LJM partnership, the Raptors and Mahonia -- the offshore SPE that J.P. Morgan used to arrange some $2 billion in questionable financing for Enron. But the court papers also include the names of some partnerships and transactions that haven't gotten much attention. These deals have odd and curious names: Motown, Slapshot Funding, Bob West Treasure and Project Spokane. Other deals are named after people. For instance, Batson seeks information about deals named Tammy, Tanya, Teresa and Tomas. Of course, odd-sounding names are nothing new with Enron. Indeed, if nothing else, the folks at Enron proved to be quite clever when it came to naming the labyrinth of SPEs and structured finance deals they used to conceal the company's debt and other obligations. A number of Enron SPEs were named after birds or Star Wars characters. And of course the infamous LJM partnerships were named after Fastow's wife and children. (LJM are the first initials of their first names). But of all the Enron entities Batson is looking into, there is one that goes by a name that aptly sums up most investors feelings about Enron. It's a deal named "project Cerberus." In Greek mythology, Cerberus was the three-headed watchdog that guarded the entrance to netherworld kingdom of Hades. Hmm, maybe there was someone at Enron with a sense of humor too.