NEW YORK -- Former WorldCom Inc. chief Bernard Ebbers took the witness stand yesterday and flatly denied he ever knew that accountants were cooking the books at the company.
Under questioning from his top lawyer, Ebbers rebutted the testimony of former finance chief Scott Sullivan, who claimed earlier in the trial that Ebbers pressured him to falsify company financial statements.
''I wasn't advised by Scott Sullivan of anything ever being wrong," Ebbers said. ''He's never told me he made an entry that wasn't right."
The denial was perhaps the most dramatic moment in the five-week-old trial of Ebbers, who is accused by the government of orchestrating the $11 billion fraud that sank WorldCom in 2002.
Prosecutors asked Ebbers about old mergers and acquisitions and tried to show that he had more than a passing familiarity with finances and accounting.
Besides denying all of the conversations in which Sullivan claims he told Ebbers improper accounting was taking place, Ebbers also denied apologizing to David Myers, WorldCom's former controller, in late 2000.
Myers had testified that Ebbers, in a hallway conversation, had said he was sorry for what accountants had been forced to do.
''I didn't have anything to apologize for," Ebbers testified.
Ebbers admitted he was a demanding and sometimes temper-prone boss at WorldCom, but he repeatedly said he was unfamiliar with the details of finances and accounting, and left the number-crunching to Sullivan.
Ebbers's testimony conflicts with Sullivan's, who described Ebbers as a detail-oriented manager who was much more familiar with accounting than most chief executives he encountered.