"And with one bound he was free!" Ex-Nortel CEO and his chums not guilty of fraud.

Jan 16, 2013

So, after years of investigation, trial and deliberation into allegations that Frank Dunn, sometime CEO of the once almighty Nortel Networks, and two of his colleagues, Douglas Beatty, a former chief financial officer at the now defunct company and the former financial controller Michael Gollogly, all three have been found "not guilty" of fraud and rigging the accounts to ensure that figures triggered a multi-million dollar bonus for themselves.

Justice Frank Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court yesterday dismissed all charges against the three defendants saying that the Crown prosecution had "failed to meet the required high standard of proof" to secure a conviction.

The judge said, “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."

However, there was a sting in the tail. Mr. Justice Marrocco pointedly pointed out that the criminal case may at last be over but several civil actions being brought by several other bodies (such as security regulators and Nortel pensioners) will continue to conclusion. And, of course, the conclusions in those cases, some of which will be held in the US, a markedly tougher legal environment than that which pertains in Canada, could be very different to that reached in the criminal case conducted in Ontario.

Indeed, there could be distant echos of the O J Simpson case. Remember, Simpson was found not guilty of multiple murder in the infamous criminal prosecution but was later held to be guilty in a subsequent civil action.

Dunn was fired by the Nortel board "for cause" back in 2004 but it took until 2008 for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to charge him and his co-executives with the falsification of Nortel's accounts. And now the criminal case is over, the defendants are not guilty and off they pop back to their mansions without a stain on their characters.

It has taken an unconscionable time to reach this point and in various media over the intervening years there have been complaints that, in this case, Canadian justice has been agonisingly slow. Actually, that's an understatement, the Athabasca glacier moves faster - you can see it on film.

So, as there was no criminal intent, what happened at Nortel will now be put down to mismanagement and you can't jail people for that. And, with the benefit of hindsight, it can be seen that the mismanagement began when John Roth was CEO back in the late nineties. Whilst he was at the helm Nortel's sense of direction failed but nonetheless Mr. Roth left the company, head held high and with $100 million in cash and stock options in his pocket.

Thereafter, things got worse. By the time Dunn was ejected from the CEO suite and Nortel curled up and died, some 95,000 people had lost their livelihoods and investors a staggering $400 BILLION as Nortel shares tanked, tanked and tanked again. Meanwhile, company pensioners lost between 35 per cent and 50 per cent of the value of their pensions and Canada lost the jewel in its small diadem of genuinely important multinational companies.

The prairies are still there though - and probably just as well. Remember Corel? And what about RIM?

The scale of Nortel's collapse can still surprise. In 2001 the company was worth $3.3 billion, a year later it was just $37 million. Nortel lost more than $3.6 billion in 2002 but, unexpectedly, reported an operating profit for Q1, 2003. The prosecution in the Dunn case claimed this sudden and remarkable turnaround was down to fraud, but the defendants said it was due to some speedy, judicious and brilliant cost-cutting. The judge found this to be so.

Frank Dunn left the court tightlipped and refused to speak to the assembled media. Instead he issued a statement saying is is “grateful to have received vindication.” Nortel's pensioners would be grateful to have received their full pensions. But then they are just an agglomeration of 'little people' who work and pay their dues but don't count for much in the wonderful world of Canadian capitalism that aspires to ape the US but can't.

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