WASHINGTON – Justice Department prosecutors met Friday with top lawyers from the Arthur Andersen accounting firm to discuss negotiations to conclude criminal obstruction charges over the firm's destruction of documents in the collapse of Enron Corp.
Friday's meeting, expected to last several hours, came at the request of Andersen's lawyers, according to a Justice Department official.
Justice spokesman Bryan Sierra declined to say whether the government would accept any offer from Andersen's lawyers that does not include a guilty plea to the obstruction charges. The government on March 14 announced Andersen's indictment by a grand jury in Houston after failed negotiations in early March over the same issue.
The grand jury indicted Andersen on March 7 on a single count of obstructing justice, accusing the firm of destroying "tons of paper" at offices across the globe and deleting enormous numbers of computer files on its audits of Enron. At times, the government said, the shredding was so fast-paced that employees worked overtime and shredding machines couldn't keep pace. The indictment was unsealed March 14.
Court documents also have disclosed that a second grand jury was impaneled March 27 in Houston to investigate the Enron case. The court papers said the grand jury "is proceeding with appropriate investigative steps."
The disclosure of resumed negotiations between Andersen and the Justice Department reflects an abrupt shift in the stands by the sides, which have been unusually adversarial. The government, for example, has accused Andersen of "slanted and outright false renditions," and Andersen most recently accused prosecutors of "overheated rhetoric."