Enron Admits It's Really Argentina
ENRON ADMITS IT'S REALLY ARGENTINA
Now Massive Ineptitude, Corruption Make More Sense, Analysts Say
Collapsed due to gross mismanagement and insurmountable debt, energy company Enron today confessed to what many observers had long suspected: it is actually Argentina.
Congressional leaders, who have called for an investigation into the biggest corporate failure in U.S. history, immediately dismissed Enron's claim, but Argentinians weren't so sure. "The shady deals. The crazy debt. I knew there was something familiar about those guys," said Banco del Argentina director Ernesto Caballo.
Enron chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay, speaking through an interpreter via phone from Buenos Aires, apologized for any confusion the subterfuge may have caused, and noted that as a sovereign nation, the company was immune from U.S. prosecution. Lay also insisted that he had not "fled" to Argentina, but had returned home to the capital to visit "mi familia."
While not directly stating it, Lay also hinted that he might in fact be Argentinian President Fernando de la Rua. Reached in Buenos Aires, de la Rua admitted he couldn't rule that out. "Things are pretty crazy around here. Who can say?"
But Enron creditors, clients, and shareholders, who stand to lose billions over their exposure to the company, weren't buying any of it. "While they may act like it, they are not a South American country, and Ken Lay is not the President of Argentina," declared J.P. Morgan Chase spokesman Alex Firtilly. "They are a malfeasant U.S. corporation that has potentially caused us to lose $500 million. And Ken Lay is from Missouri."
"¿Como?," Lay replied. "No hablo Ingles."
Recently ranked as high as No. 7 on the Fortune 500 list of the largest U.S. companies, Enron literally ran itself into the ground by fudging its books, making secretive deals that enriched company insiders, and relying too heavily on debt. Though it was formed in 1986 with the merger of Houston Natural Gas and InterNorth, Enron became Argentina only recently, said Lay, "on the advice of our attorneys."
That counsel came none too soon. As a South American state, all pending U.S. and European lawsuits are rendered harmless. And the company escapes what had been a daily fusillade of scorn from its former home.
Indeed, much as the French were baffled by America's obsession with President Clinton's sexual affairs, many South Americans say they don't understand why Enron and its leaders have been vilified. As former Colombian President Ernesto Samper explained: "In the United States, you look at corruption as an abomination We look at it as an art."
The U.S. State Department has refused to recognize Enron as Argentina, and a spokesman said the Bush administration has officially requested the extradition of Lay and the officers who allegedly fled with him. Argentina, however, denied the request, explaining that an entire country cannot be extradited. And besides, they added, Lay had pledged to help pay off the nation's $132 billion debt.
Asked where the bankrupt Enron got such a sum, Lay explained that after proclaiming its nationhood status, the company had received an emergency IMF loan. An IMF spokesman later confirmed the payment.
"From what we knew of their fiduciary practices, Enron appeared to have all the hallmarks of a typical IMF fundee," said IMF communications director Nestor Svingen. "At first, we did balk when they asked for $232 billion, but when they explained that some of the money would go to repay overdue IMF loans, we thought, 'Oh, that's all right then.'"
"Not that we actually expect to see any money from anyone," Svingen added. "It's just this little game we all play. Great fun if you like numbers. Do you enjoy quadratic equations? I could do them all day."
Asked what Enron/Argentina had pledged to do with the extra $100 billion it requested, Svingen said the application had specified funding for "civic infrastructure improvements."
"That usually means the president is going to build a palace," Svingen explained.