The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered the release from prison of two men involved in the infamous Nigerian barge case, reported The Wall Street Journal.
Former Merrill Lynch investment bankers Daniel Bayly and Robert Furst are two of six individuals convicted in 2004 for their roles in the alleged fraud. According to the Houston Chronicle, the government had charged that former Enron chief financial officer Andrew Fastow orally promised Merrill Lynch that if it pretended to buy the barges so Enron could fraudulently pump up its bottom line, then Fastow would guarantee the property would be bought back and Merrill Lynch would make a profit.
Bayly and Furst are free on bail pending appeal, reported the Journal. Though their convictions have not been overturned, “it is hard to imagine why they would order defendants released from prison” unless the court planned to do so, said David Spears, an attorney for another former Merrill executive convicted in the barge deal. His client, William Fuhs, was freed pending appeal in March; at the time, the Chronicle noted that the standard for such court-ordered release is very high.
Spears told the Journal that the ruling could also be a good omen for Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, who were convicted in a separate trial last month. “Appellate courts are going behind the convictions of the Enron Task Force and asking tough questions about how they have chosen to prosecute these cases,” he told the newspaper.
A spokesperson for the task force declined comment to the paper.
Bayly’s attorney, Thomas Hagemann, told the Journal: “We’ve always believed that Mr. Bayly was wrongfully convicted. We hope that the court’s order indicates that it is about to agree with that view.” Furst’s attorney, Daniel Horwitz, said only, “We are delighted that Mr. Furst has been granted bail pending appeal and that he will be released.”