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US judge lets Arthur Andersen off hook.

The US Supreme Court yesterday overturned the conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm for destroying Enron Corp-related documents before the energy giant's collapse.

In a unanimous opinion, justices said the former Big Five accounting firm's June 2002 conviction was improper. It said the jury instructions at trial were too vague and broad for jurors to determine correctly whether Andersen obstructed justice.

'The jury instructions here were flawed in important respects,' Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the court.

The ruling is a setback for the Bush administration, which made prosecution of white-collar criminals a high priority following accounting scandals at major corporations.

After Enron's 2001 collapse, the Justice Department went after Andersen first.

Enron crashed in December 2001, putting more than 5,000 employees out of work, just six weeks after the energy company revealed massive losses and writedowns.

Subsequently, as the Securities and Exchange Commission began looking into Enron's convoluted finances, Andersen put in practice a policy calling for destroying unneeded documentation.

Government lawyers argued that Andersen should be held responsible for instructing its employees to 'undertake an unprecedented campaign of document destruction'.

But in his opinion Rehnquist noted that jurors were instructed to convict Andersen if the accounting firm had an 'improper purpose,' such as an intent to impede or subvert fact-finding in an 'official proceeding'.

He noted jurors were instructed to convict, even if Andersen mistakenly thought it was acting legally
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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