NEW YORK – The collapse of Enron wiped out the investments of thousands of unsuspecting Enron shareholders and employees, but the boys in Houston didn't stop with Enron stock.
Believe it or not, there was an other public company run by the same executives that ran Enron and audited by Arthur Andersen that left behind a trail of secret partnerships, hidden debt and thousands of disappointed shareholders.
The company was called Azurix and when it went public with great fanfare in the summer of 1999 it hoped to control the water utility business around the globe.
But as was the case with Enron, it's real business appears to have been financial engineering.
Here's how it worked. Enron and two of its private partnerships took Azurix public at $19 a share in June of 1999. One month later, these insiders sold another 5.7 million shares to the unsuspecting public at $23.88 — before the bottom fell out.
Total proceeds to Enron and its partnerships came to about $824 million.
But as Azurix began missing its earnings estimates by a mile the stock began to plunge. That is, until Enron bought back the Azurix stock from the public at just over $8 a share. That of course was nearly $11 less than Enron sold it for just 18 months earlier.
The net gain to Enron and its "secret" partners from all these shenanigans: a cool $1/2 billion.
Unlike much of Enron, Azurix had some real assets; namely a multi-billion dollar water facility in Britian. And at the time of the buyback there was some outcry from shareholders that Enron was "stealing" the company from the public at $8 a share.
But Azurix shareholders didn't have anyone looking out for their interests. Incredibly the entire Azurix board — every single member — also sat on the Enron board as well.
In its IPO prospectus — drawn up by Arthur Andersen and Enron's law firm Vinson and Elkins, Azurik promised to appoint several outside directors — but that never happened.
So much for independence.