Michael Pascoe writes:


Ken Lay, George W Bush confidant, Enron chief and massive fraudster, has managed to avoid prison by dying at his Aspen holiday home.

You
could call it “doing a Laurie Connell”, but Connell, the worst of the
WA Inc con men, probably would have been treated more leniently by
Australian courts – partly because we’re softer on white collar crime
and partly because he didn’t do as much damage as Enron.

US
courts can be just as slow as ours though. Lay was convicted in May of
fraud and conspiracy after a long and expensive legal battle, but he
wasn’t due to be sentenced until October. No-one gave him any chance of
making a successful appeal and, at aged 64, he was looking at spending
the rest of his life behind bars.

Having a holiday house in
Aspen indicates Lay hadn’t lost all of his fortune in Enron’s collapse
and legal bills. But then, as Lay once commented – in defence of a $200,000 yacht for wife Linda’s birthday party – it’s “difficult to turn off that lifestyle like a spigot.”

Given
the damage Enron caused, there will be very little sympathy for Lay
beyond the superstitious souls who for some strange reason think one
shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. I do know one former Enron insider,
though, who says Lay was actually a brilliant and good businessman,
until he fell under the spell of Michael Milken, the Drexel junk bond
king.

With plea bargaining, Milken served just 22 months and has
devoted a lot of PR and money since his release in 1993 to trying to
repair his reputation. In some circles, he’s succeeded. Having $2
billion to throw around helps.

It will be interesting to see how
many of Lay’s former political friends might turn up for the funeral. He was also a prolific political
fundraiser and one of the top individual contributors to George W
Bush’s run for the presidency in 2000. Bush called his backer “Kenny
Boy” – a nickname that stuck, for better or worse.

At the top
of his game, Lay was frequently cited as a contender for a top post in
the Bush administration. And Vice President Dick Cheney sought his
counsel on matters of national energy policy.

Peter Fray

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