Former Nortel execs acquitted in multimillion-dollar fraud case
Published Monday, January 14, 2013 6:20AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 14, 2013 10:56PM EST
Fraud charges against three former Nortel executives were dismissed Monday and the men were acquitted of accusations that they orchestrated a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.
The three former members of the now defunct telecom giant's top brass were found not guilty on all counts by an Ontario court judge, who ruled Crown prosecutors did not met the burden of proof necessary to convict the men.
"I am not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Frank A. Dunn, Douglas C. Beatty and Michael J. Gollogly deliberately misrepresented the financial results of Nortel Networks Corporation," Ontario Superior Court Justice Frank Marrocco said in his ruling.
"Therefore, I find each of them not guilty of counts one and two in this indictment."
The accused had each faced two counts of fraud, one for defrauding the "investing public" and the other for defrauding Nortel Networks Corp. They could have been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison had they been found guilty.
The accused were all fired by Nortel in 2004, and the Monday decision comes one year after their trial began.
Upon exiting the courthouse, Beatty would only say that he was relieved with the ruling and ready to get on with his life.
Beatty's lawyer, Greg Lafontaine, added that he was happy that his client had been cleared.
"We're ecstatic with the result. It's a great judgment and complete vindication of Mr. Beatty. There was no fraud at Nortel, no fraud at Nortel at all," he told reporters.
The Crown prosecutor in the trial had argued that the men were complicit in releasing accruals. Essentially, the Crown argued, they allowed money to be released from Nortel's emergency fund during quarters when the company performed poorly, in order to make the company appear as though it was in the black even though the company was actually operating at a loss.
And because their own bonuses were based on their ability to return the company to profitability, the prosecution said the men directly profited from the strategy, to the tune of $12.8 million.
However, Marrocco said in his ruling there simply wasn't enough evidence the accused committed a crime, said BNN's Paul Bagnell.
"It's a fact that accounting rules for large corporations allow a certain amount of leeway, one corporation may take a certain approach, another corporation may take another approach -- they may account for things differently. That's not fraud and that's clearly the argument that the judge accepted today," Bagnell told CTV News Channel.
At its peak, Nortel employed over 90,000 employees around the world and was valued at close to $300 billion. At one point, share prices hit $124.50 before tumbling down to penny stock status.
The company filed for bankruptcy in 2009 in North America and Europe, and fired thousands of employees.
Anne Clark-Stewart, a pensioner who attended the court decision on Monday, said she and many others are still living with the consequences of a failed Nortel, which saw their investments drastically depleted.
"People are moving in with friends, people that had homes no longer have a home. I had a home; I'm now renting a condo. I can't afford to maintain a home anymore. It's devastating and there's a lot of people in worse situations than I am," she said.