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Justice Eyeing Enron In Bribe Probe

Federal prosecutors reportedly are investigating whether or not Enron Corp. bribed foreign government officials to win contracts abroad.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday the Justice Department's Enron Task Force is examining the energy company's non-U.S. operations for possible criminal violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The paper cited government officials and lawyers close to the case.

The report says investigators are looking at Enron's efforts to win foreign pipeline, power and water deals, some going back to the 1990's. In some cases, Enron acquired the projects without competitive bidding or at below-market values.

Enron has denied paying bribes and has said such allegations were falsely brought by some rivals and local political opponents abroad.

The Journal notes that Enron's U.S. business has withered, but that many of its utilities and pipelines abroad continue to operate and are among its most valuable assets. They were excluded from the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

The foreign units include power plants in Poland and the Philippines, and a gas pipeline in Bolivia.

In 2000, for example, the World Bank suspended its support for a $100 million water project in Ghana that had been awarded to Enron's Azurix unit.

"We were concerned the award was sole-source, without real competition," a World Bank official told the Journal.

The draft schedule of payments, according to World Bank officials, included an unexplained initial payment of $5 million by Enron. An Enron spokeswoman at that time denied reports the money was for government officials. The current Ghanian government has suspended the award and is now seeking competitive bids for the project.

A spokeswoman for Rebecca Mark-Jusbasche, the former executive who built Enron's international operations, said Mark-Jusbasche has not been contacted by the Justice Department.

"Many of these allegations have been beaten to death, and no charges have ever been upheld," she said.

Foreign bribery cases can be very difficult to bring. Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, enacted in 1977, only 40 prosecutions have been successful.

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