Invoking his Fifth Amendment right, WorldCom's former chief executive officer refused to answer questions Monday from a congressional panel investigating nearly $4 billion in accounting irregularities at the telecommunications giant.
"I do not believe I have anything to hide in these or any other proceedings,'' Bernard J. Ebbers told the House Financial Services Committee.
He said he'd been advised by his Washington attorney, Reid Weingarten, to remain silent because of the range of investigations by the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission WorldCom's former chief financial officer, Scott Sullivan, also refused to testify, "based upon the advice of counsel.''
John Sidgmore, WorldCom's president and chief executive officer, blamed the company's former management for the accounting problems.
"WorldCom uncovered this problem internally,'' Sidgmore said in prepared testimony. "The kind of initiative demonstrated by our internal audit group is to be applauded and will continue to be encouraged.''
WorldCom Chairman Bert Roberts called the accounting improprieties "an outrage to me,'' and said auditor Arthur Andersen was responsible.
"To my mind, the failure of our outside auditors to uncover them is inconceivable,'' he said.
Former chief financial officer Scott Sullivan also refused to testify on the grounds of possible self-incrimination.
Melvin Dick, the senior Andersen audit partner for WorldCom, testified that neither he nor any member of the Andersen team "had any inkling'' of the improper accounting.
WorldCom is the latest major corporation to face allegations of executive wrongdoing and accounting irregularities, driving down public confidence in business and the stock market.
Congress already is investigating the bankruptcies of Enron Corp. and telecommunications company Global Crossing and the role played by accounting firms.