Lehman Brothers execs 'used $50bn accounting gimmick'

12 March 2010

The downfall of Lehman Brothers has been partly attributed to some of the company's top executives in a new report.

A one-year investigation into the collapse of the bank by court-appointed examiner Anton Valukas has resulted in allegations that Lehman Brothers put out misleading financial statements with the express permission of senior members of staff.

It is also alleged that executives including Dick Fuld, the firm's former chief executive officer, used an "accounting gimmick" to hide around $50 billion worth of debt from its balance sheet in the first six months of 2008.

The three other executives named by Mr Valukas as being involved in the practice were Christopher O'Meara, Erin Callan and Ian Lowitt, who were chief financial officers at the company.

Mr Fuld and Mr Lowitt's lawyers denied the charges against their client, while attorneys for Ms Callan and Mr O'Meara are yet to comment on the allegations.

The attorney for Mr Fuld said: "Mr Fuld did not know what those transactions were - he didn't structure or negotiate them, nor was he aware of their accounting treatment."

But the allegations may lead to class action lawsuits from investors and legal action from the Lehman estate against the four bankers.

As well as questioning the behavior of the Lehman Brothers executives, the report criticizes the conduct of Ernst & Young, Lehman Brothers' auditing firm, for failing to "question and challenge improper or inadequate disclosures" in the company's results.

It also reveals that Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase may have contributed to the downfall of Lehman Brothers by chasing collateral from the bank in the weeks before it went bankrupt.

Last month, KPMG, the company which is carrying out the liquidation of Lehman Brothers' assets, announced that it is closing in on the sale of around 12 of its Asian-based units.

By Gary Cooper

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