Texas dean in Enron role

February 8, 2002

The University of Texas law school, whose dean is leading Enron's own inquiry into its corporate collapse, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company, university officials confirmed this week.

William Powers is chairing a committee formed by Houston-based Enron last October to investigate suspected fraud that hid $600 million (£420 million) losses from investors.

Professor Powers was appointed to Enron's board in October after the decisions that led to the December bankruptcy had been taken. His report, issued last weekend, uncovers lapses in accounting procedures.

It has emerged that the university's Austin campus received millions of dollars from the company before it went bankrupt last month, and officials confirmed that the law school received $250,000 from Enron to fund international legal studies.

The university's business school has received $3.1 million from Enron over the past five years.

Lance King, the university's executive director of corporate and foundation relations, said: "They were one of the most generous corporate contributors."

Enron general counsel James Derrick, one of the executives being sued by shareholders for allegedly conspiring to defraud them, was trustee of the law school foundation.

He resigned the position when Professor Powers joined Enron's board. He is also a past president of the university's Law Alumni Association, a key fundraising body.

Professor Powers also serves on an Enron committee examining shareholder lawsuits. He was unavailable for comment, but Patricia Ohlendorf, vice-president, institutional relations and legal affairs, said the university was satisfied that his role did not involve a conflict of interest.

"We encourage faculty to serve on boards (to improve) their teaching and research," she said.

Enron spokeswoman Karen Denne said Professor Powers was handpicked for his "sterling reputation" and ability.

She added: "Enron looked at its prior relationship with the school and determined that Powers's capabilities outweighed any perceived conflict."

But B. Espen Eckbo, director of the Center of Corporate Governance at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, said: "There are plenty of people who could do this job - even if there is no direct conflict of interest it doesn't look good."

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