By David S. Hilzenrath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2001; Page A01
The collapse came swiftly for Enron Corp. when investors and customers learned they could not trust its numbers. On Sunday, six weeks after Enron disclosed that federal regulators were examining its finances, the global energy-trading powerhouse became the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Like all publicly traded companies in the United States, Enron had an outside auditor scrutinize its annual financial results. In this case, blue-chip accounting firm Arthur Andersen had vouched for the numbers. But Enron, citing accounting errors, had to correct its financial statements, cutting profits for the past three years by 20 percent — about $586 million. Andersen declined comment and said it is cooperating in the investigation.
The number of corporations retracting and correcting earnings reports has doubled in the past three years, to 233, an Andersen study found. Major accounting firms have failed to detect or have disregarded glaring bookkeeping problems at companies as varied as Rite Aid Corp., X