Enron’s leading executives of recent times have been lining up at the Congressional hearings to state that they have nothing to say for fear of incriminating themselves. As none has been granted immunity from prosecution, this was probably inevitable.

First, on February 8th, was Andrew Fastow, former chief financial officer, who is reckoned to have made $30 million through the network of partnerships he created for Enron. Many see him as the chief architect of the company’s financial structure and therefore of its downfall. It was the unravelling of these partnerships, used to hide debt and inflate profits, that led to the company’s collapse.

Fastow was followed by Michael Kopper, former global finance chief, who also declined to testify. Lawyers for two more executives, Richard Buy, senior vice-president and Richard Causey, executive vice-president, declined on their behalves. Both executives have since been fired.

Kenneth Lay, former ceo and one of two or three ultra-key figures in the case, simply didn’t show up for the hearings, and was subpoenaed. When he did appear days later he also took the fifth, prompting a broadside of criticism from committee members.

Jeff Skilling, former ceo and successor to Kenneth Lay, had stepped down in August, and he did testify. He implicitly denied that there was any attempt to deceive shareholders. The company, he said, was in a sound financial position when he left and he believed its financial statements were accurate. But less than a week later Sherron Watkins, an exec vp, testifying before the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, claimed that Skilling was a hands-on executive who was fully aware of the off-balance sheet arrangements. She testified to having told Lay in the summer that he should come clean about Enron’s tangled finances and point the finger at its accountants, Andersen, other executives, and lawyers. She believed that the survival of the company was in jeopardy and warned of an imminent $700 million loss. It later transpired that Lay subsequently sold $20 million of stock back to the company, part of a series of such sales during 2001 amounting to between 70 and 100 million dollars.

•PriceWaterhouseCooper, administrator of the European end, has indicated that creditors cannot count on recovering more than 25 per cent. But Enron finances, not yet unravelled, are complicated further because many debts are to other Enron subsidiaries.