Report: Lehman used fuzzy accounting
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Steve Chiotakis: A bankruptcy examiner in the Lehman Brothers case has officially outlined the final days of that firm. The report was filed late yesterday in Manhattan Federal Court and details the reasons behind the firm’s collapse and what laid the groundwork for the financial crisis. Marketplace’s Alisa Roth joins us live from our studio in New York to talk about what it says. Good morning, Alisa.
Alisa Roth: Good morning.
Chiotakis: 2,200 pages worth of reasons for Lehman’s collapse. I know you can’t give me all of them, but what are the big ones?
Roth: As you say, a lot of different issues came together to take down Lehman Brothers. Like a lot of other institutions, the company was holding too many bad mortgages. The report also says that some of Lehmans’ rivals — namely JPMorgan and Citigroup — sped up its failure. Those other banks insisted that Lehman put up more collateral on loans, which in turn starved the company for cash. But probably the most scathing accusations are that Lehman manipulated its balance sheets. The exact words are that Lehman used “materially misleading” accounting tricks.
Chiotakis: Does the report name names?
Roth: Oh it does indeed. Richard Fuld, the ex-CEO of Lehman, reportedly signed off on the fuzzy accounting. The report accuses him of being “at least grossly negligent.” The report also says Lehman’s accountants, Ernst & Young, knew about the creative bookkeeping.
Chiotakis: So what happens now? Can we expect another big round of white-collar trials, like we had post-Enron?
Roth: I think that’s a safe bet. The question will be how far anybody can prove the responsibility extended. The report says “colorable claims” could be made against some Lehman execs and against Ernst & Young, the accountants. And by colorable claims, it means evidence that’s strong enough to potentially get a jury to award damages.
Chiotakis: Marketplace’s Alisa Roth, reporting from New York. Alisa, thanks.
Roth: You’re welcome.
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