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Friday, June 10, 2005

16 Bodies Found In Western Iraq

Sixteen people killed execution-style found in Iraq

The bodies of 16 people who were killed execution-style have been discovered in western Iraq, witnesses said on Friday, the latest grisly killings fueling fears of civil war in Iraq.
Police said on Wednesday that 22 Iraqi soldiers from the mainly Shi'ite south were kidnapped after leaving their base in the town of Qaim, a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim insurgency near the Syrian border.

It was not immediately clear if the victims, who were in civilian clothes and left in two different locations near Qaim, were those soldiers. Many were blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs.

Eleven of the bodies were scattered in a gravel pit and five were left beside a desert road often used by soldiers.

Two of the men were beheaded.

Al Qaeda's group in Iraq said on Thursday it was holding 36 Iraqi soldiers hostage, not 22 as reported by police, and demanded the government free all women prisoners within 24 hours, according to a Web statement.

The Sunni Muslim group, which has often abducted and killed officials and soldiers, said the 36 were being questioned about their "crimes against Sunnis."

Officials in western Iraq have said the kidnapped soldiers were members of the once oppressed Shi'ite community, now dominant in Iraq after winning Jan. 30 elections.

Insurgents have kidnapped and killed scores of Iraqi soldiers.

Sunnis, powerful under toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, boycotted the elections and members of their community are leading an insurgency.

Suicide bombings and execution-style killings have escalated over the last few months, raising concerns that tensions between Shi'ites and Sunnis could push Iraq toward civil war.

Insurgents have stepped up attacks since a new Iraqi government was formed in late April, killing more than 800 police, soldiers, officials and civilians.

© Reuters 2005.

Citigroup to Pay $2 Bln in Enron Lawsuit

Citigroup Inc. (C.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , the world's largest financial services company, on Friday said it will pay $2 billion to Enron Corp. investors who accused it of helping engineer a massive accounting fraud at the energy trader.

The class-action settlement is one of the largest in corporate history, though it is less than the $2.58 billion that Citigroup agreed to pay WorldCom Inc. investors in 2004.

The settlement may put pressure on a series of other major banks to settle with Enron investors.

Citigroup did not admit wrongdoing in agreeing to settle. It said the pre-tax payment is fully covered by its existing litigation reserves and that it does not plan to adjust its remaining reserves.

"It is a key priority for Citigroup to resolve major cases like this one and to put a difficult chapter in our history behind us," Citigroup Chief Executive Charles Prince said in a statement. "By doing so, we will be better positioned to realize our goals."

The settlement must be approved by the bank's board of directors and the board of regents of the University of California, the lead plaintiff for investors in the case. A federal court in Houston also must approve the agreement.

Other financial institutions facing claims for their role in Enron's December 2001 collapse include JP Morgan Chase and Co. (JPM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , Barclays Plc (BARC.L: Quote, Profile, Research) , Credit Suisse First Boston (CSGN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research) , Merrill Lynch (MER.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) , Toronto Dominion Bank (TD.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) , Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) , Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L: Quote, Profile, Research) .

"We are very pleased with the size of the settlement," said William Lerach, the lawyer representing the regents of the University of California, which lost millions when Enron collapsed.

"It's particularly significant in that several large, similarly situated banks remain as defendants in the case, so this is a step down the road, not the last step on the road."

Lerach, who estimates that the recoverable damages for Enron investors are in the "tens of billions of dollars," declined comment on whether he is in settlement discussions with any other banks.

Two other banks previously reached settlements with Enron investors. Lehman Brothers (LEH.N: Quote, Profile, Research) agreed to a $222.5 million settlement, while Bank of America agreed to pay $69 million.

Lerach said the settlement with Citigroup came about after a series of discussions.

"We had talked on and off at different points in time," he said.

In settling the WorldCom case last year, Citigroup helped spur other banks to make similar settlements.

Investors in WorldCom are expected to recover about $6 billion, the largest U.S. securities settlement ever, from more than a dozen banks. The plaintiffs in that suit, led by New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, accused the banks of helping WorldCom sell bonds when they should have known the company was lying about its finances.

Enron filed for bankruptcy after its use of off-balance sheet deals to hide tens of billions of dollars in debt were revealed. Its meltdown sparked a flurry of shareholder lawsuits and numerous criminal charges against the company and its management.

Former Enron Chairman Ken Lay and ex-Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling are scheduled to go on trial in January 2006 for their role in the scandal.

Martha Graybow
© Reuters 2005