HOUSTON – As Arthur Andersen seeks to raise cash in its fight for survival, a group of insurers who are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Enron is trying to stop the accounting firm from selling off its assets.
U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon has set a Monday hearing on the request. Her ruling came after Andersen announced a tentative agreement with Deloitte & Touche for a "significant" number of its U.S. tax partners and professionals to join the rival firm.
An Andersen source said Friday that layoffs are expected to come on Monday, but wouldn't say how many of the company's 85,000 worldwide workers — including 28,000 in the United States — will be affected.
Galveston-based American National Insurance and several other insurers have asked for an injunction to stop Andersen from selling assets or transferring them to foreign subsidiaries or affiliates.
The motion, filed last month, also seeks to bar Andersen from releasing partners and employees who quit the firm from noncompete agreements, which prohibit former workers from taking clients with them if they join other auditing firms.
"We're one of the claimants who have lost significant dollars in securities," said Andrew Mytelka, American National's attorney. "There won't be anything left to collect from."
Andersen spokesman Patrick Dorton said the claim had no merit.
"There is no evidence that Andersen is trying to hide assets, dissipate them, or remove them from the court's jurisdiction and indeed no evidence that, if Andersen has in fact disposed of any 'asset,' it has not received fair value for it," the firm said in a court filing late Friday.
Terms of Thursday's memorandum of understanding between Andersen and rival Deloitte were not announced. But splitting off much of its tax unit — which brought in $1.27 billion in revenue last year — would make Andersen much smaller if it manages to survive an indictment and other fallout from the Enron scandal.
Andersen has lost more than 130 U.S. public audit clients this year, more than two-thirds since it was indicted March 14 by a federal grand jury on a charge of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying Enron documents.
The trial is set to start May 6 unless the Justice Department and Andersen reach a settlement. Justice Department prosecutors were meeting Friday with top Andersen lawyers.
The exodus of clients continued Friday as at least six companies and a Connecticut Indian tribe announced they had replaced Andersen as their auditor.
Mark Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, which operates the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, cited the indictment and "potential licensure issues in Connecticut" for the tribe's dismissal of the accounting firm, which had served the Mohegans for seven years.
"The Tribal Council believes it had no other choice than to remove Andersen as its independent auditor," Brown said. "It is not a happy decision we have made, but clearly one that had to be made."