Bernard Ebbers, the forrmer chief executive of WorldCom, told a jury in New York on Monday that he lacked any knowledge of accounting so left all such decisions to his chief financial officer.
“To this day, I don’t know technology, I don’t know finance and accounting,” said Mr Ebbers, who is accused of orchestrating an $11bn fraud. “The closest thing I ever had to an accounting course was a preliminary course in economics.”
In the months leading up to his trial, Mr Ebbers has denied any wrong-doing in the accounting fraud. His lawyers have argued that the scheme was carried out by Scott Sullivan, the former chief financial officer of the telecommunications company, without their client’s knowledge.
“We were a very fast-growing company, and I was a very demanding boss,’” Mr Ebbers said.
Earlier in the trial, Mr Sullivan told jurors that Mr Ebbers ordered him to “hit the numbers”, which he interpreted as telling him to lie about the company’s numbers.
On Monday Mr Ebbers was asked by his attorney, Reid Weingarten, whether he ever overruled any of Mr Sullivan’s accounting decisions.
“I don’t believe so,” Mr Ebbers said. He added that he did not monitor Mr Sullivan’s daily activities.
Mr Ebber’s testimony on Monday represents a high-stakes gamble by the defence in the late stages of his criminal trial.
Taking the stand allows Mr Ebbers to tell his story directly to jurors in his own words – an opportunity that other high-profile white collar defendants such as Martha Stewart have declined. However, it also exposes Mr Ebbers to the scrutiny of cross-examination by government prosecutors.
“It’s an extremely high-risk proposition that is generally shunned by defence lawyers,” said Robert Mintz, a former prosecutor.