Another NYT Op-Ed piece, this one by Paul Krugman: Everyone is Outraged.
“My last column, describing techniques of corporate fraud, omitted one method also favored by Enron: the fictitious asset sale. Returning to the ice-cream store, what you do is sell your old delivery van to XYZ Corporation for an outlandish price, and claim the capital gain as a profit. But the transaction is a sham: XYZ Corporation is actually you under another name. Before investors figure this out, however, you can sell a lot of stock at artificially high prices.
“Now to the story of Harken Energy, as reported in The Wall Street Journal on March 4. In 1989 Mr. Bush was on the board of directors and audit committee of Harken. He acquired that position, along with a lot of company stock, when Harken paid $2 million for Spectrum 7, a tiny, money-losing energy company with large debts of which Mr. Bush was C.E.O…
“Unfortunately, Harken was also losing money hand over fist. But in 1989 the company managed to hide most of those losses with the profits it reported from selling a subsidiary, Aloha Petroleum, at a high price. Who bought Aloha? A group of Harken insiders, who got most of the money for the purchase by borrowing from Harken itself. Eventually the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that this was a phony transaction, and forced the company to restate its 1989 earnings.
“But long before that ruling — though only a few weeks before bad news that could not be concealed caused Harken’s shares to tumble — Mr. Bush sold off two-thirds of his stake, for $848,000. Just for the record, that’s about four times bigger than the sale that has Martha Stewart in hot water… An internal S.E.C. memorandum concluded that he had broken the law, but no charges were filed. This, everyone insists, had nothing to do with the fact that his father was president.”