In his first few moments of testimony at his criminal trial, former Enron chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling summed up his situation. “In some ways, my life is on the line,” he told jurors Monday.
As co-defendant Kenneth Lay looked on, Skilling insisted that “I am absolutely innocent” and that “I will fight those charges until the day I die.”
In response to questioning by defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli, Skilling testified that he believes the “vast majority” of his former Enron colleagues who pleaded guilty are, in fact, also innocent of the charges they faced.
Skilling disputed the notion that he left Enron in August 2001 because he knew the company was close to collapse. “I reached the point toward the end of my time at Enron where I was tired, I was exhausted,” he testified. “I felt that my leaving would reestablish the company’s credibility,” Skilling told jurors. “But the reason I left was really because my head wasn’t in it anymore.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, Skilling also testified that two months later, he offered to return to Enron to help allay Wall Street concerns. Skilling reportedly testified that he told Lay, “I think that would show support…that by my coming back it would send a strong signal to the marketplace that I didn’t think there was anything wrong.”
Skilling testified that he told Enron executive Greg Whalley that “we need to get on a plane to New York” and tell Wall Street analysts that the company had about $3 billion worth of liquidity problems but otherwise would survive, the Chronicle reported. “He said he would recommend to Ken that we do this, and I said hurry….I said call aviation and tell them to warm up the jet.”
The next day, Skilling reportedly added, Whalley told him that Enron executives had decided to wait until the crisis blew over.
According to the Chronicle, Skilling also expressed shock that the company collapsed, and he blamed some of Enron’s problems on short sellers and on negative coverage in the press. “I had never read an article that was that incorrect and that one-sided,” he reportedly said about one Wall Street Journal article.