Although the Enron scandal has been followed by other bigger frauds at companies such as WorldCom and Parmalat, it is still the most notorious of all, and it was Enron which originally became a by-word for corporate wrong-doing. Because of this, there's been huge frustration among US prosecutors who've found it difficult to assemble a criminal case against Jeffrey Skilling, the former chief operating officer and chief executive, a star businessman who turned Enron from a dull pipeline company into a financial powerhouse and the seventh biggest firm in America.
The investigations have included basic accounting issues, as well as far more complex questions surrounding the legality of shadowy Enron partnerships which hid huge amounts of debt. Some of the case has dealt with subtle questions of the degree to which companies should be allowed to manipulate their earnings figures to present the best possible picture to the world. Despite the problems, the authorities have charged a number of lower and mid-level executives with fraud, and some have pleaded guilty. At last, the prosecutors have now got the co-operation of almost every high-level executive who worked with Mr Skilling, including Andrew Fastow, the former chief financial officer who pleaded guilty to various criminal charges last month and has agreed to a jail sentence of at least ten years. Their evidence will no doubt play a key part in the case against Jeffrey Skilling.