First Union Tie to Enron Questioned

A House committee investigating Enron Corp. could ask First Union Corp. officials to testify about the bank's financial commitment to an Enron partnership being scrutinized.

Charlotte-based First Union, now part of Wachovia Corp., made a $25 million investment commitment to LJM2 in May 2000, First Union spokeswoman Mary Eshet said. She declined to give the amount invested or to comment on any Enron underwriting business.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said this past week that Enron promised bond underwriting business to First Union and Merrill Lynch in return for investments in the partnership.

On Friday, Rep. Richard Burr, R-N.C., vice chairman of the committee, said that bank representatives could be invited to testify before the committee.

"It is too early for us to tell the full extent of exposure of these institutions and their involvement in these partnerships," Burr said. "Clearly, financial institutions for the past two years would want to have a relationship with Enron. The question is whether such institutions participated (in partnerships) in hopes of moving up in line" for bond business.

Burr said he didn't think the banks did anything improper, but added, "we need an understanding of what was said to investors by the partnership."

The commitment by the First Union Investors group was a routine investment "in accordance with applicable laws, regulations and internal policies," Eshet said. The company has a total of $2.5 billion in investment commitments in a variety of companies and industries, she said.

Enron was ranked as the nation's seventh largest company before it crumbled and made the largest-ever bankruptcy protection filing.

A number of banks, including Wachovia and Bank of America Corp., lost money on bad loans, and investors have sued some firms, including a Bank of America subsidiary, for promoting Enron bonds as the company crumbled.

The LJM2 partnership was one of a number created by Enron executives to hide debt and unprofitable investments from Enron shareholders, according to investigators.

LJM2 was formed in 1999 by Andrew Fastow, the former Enron chief financial officer, with the intent of raising $200 million from institutional investors, according to a special report issued by the Enron board earlier this month.

LJM2 received total capital commitments of $394 million from about 50 partners, including foundations, pension funds and financial institutions such as Merrill Lynch. Merrill Lynch invested $5 million, and some of its executives invested $16 million.