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Ebbers conviction - 'victory for individual responsibility'

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In case you missed it, Bernard J Ebbers has been found guilty of orchestrating the $11bn (£5.8bn) accounting fraud in the three years to July 2002 that led to the collapse of US telecoms giant WorldCom, the loss of 20,000 jobs and more than $100bn in stock value. Not bad for a man who made much of his humble roots as an ex-milkman and basketball coach whose grasp of accounting and technology were limited.

Throughout Ebbers' six week trial the former chief exec maintained he knew nothing of the book fiddling that brought the telecoms giant to its knees. Instead, he told the court he knew nothing and left all the financial matters to his bean counters.

When he did find out about the book fiddling, he was "shocked", he told the New York court - although probably not as shocked as he is now as he faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars.

City observers reckon Ebbers' conviction will act as a massive wake-up call to corporate America. Ebbers' "I didn't know, honest" defence just didn't wash with the jury even though there was no killer piece of evidence linking the "Telecom Cowboy" to the fraud.

He was the chief exec. He should have known. He could spot piddling amount of cash being spent on coffee for employees but multi-million dollar holes in the accounts?

Equally, the "liar, liar pants on fire" tactic employed by the prosecution as it wheeled out former CFO Scott Sullivan to finger Ebbers was enough to convict him. Sullivan admitted to using drugs while at WorldCom and coughed to carrying out the fraud. Whether his help securing the conviction of Ebbers will result in him receiving a lighter sentence remains to be seen.

Anyhow, it's now open season on Ebbers and the world and his dog are lining up to give him both barrels.

Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) which promotes ethics in public life said he was "greatly heartened" by Ebbers' conviction.

"Twenty thousand people lost their livelihoods because of Ebbers' greed. Ordinary people lost $600m from their pensions plans because Ebbers did not have enough houses, boats or automobiles. This is a victory for individual responsibility, which has been significantly eroded in our society. The largest financial fraud in American history didn't just happen. It resulted from the specific actions of specific individuals, who are now being made accountable."

Ebbers is due to be sentenced on 13 June and could spend the rest of his life in jail. He is expected to appeal the decision. ®

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