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Ex-Enron unit CEO says he didn't correct Skilling

HOUSTON - Former Enron Corp. chief executive Jeffrey Skilling misled employees and Wall Street about a flailing business unit's strength in early 2001, but the unit's former CEO said Wednesday he never corrected his boss.

"No, I didn't want to talk about that," Kenneth Rice told Skilling lawyer Mark Holscher in his second day testifying in the fraud and conspiracy trial of Skilling, his former boss and friend, and Enron founder Kenneth Lay.

"You never once told Jeff Skilling you were uncomfortable with any statement he made to analysts about (Enron Broadband Services), is that right?"

"Yes," said Rice, who is among 16 ex-Enron executives who have pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from the government's investigation of the energy company's swift tumble into bankruptcy proceedings in December 2001.

Holscher also sought to portray Rice as an out-of-touch manager who didn't even know how many people worked for him.

When Holscher asked if he knew how many people worked at EBS, Rice replied: "Twelve (hundred) to 1,500."

"You're CEO. You don't know?" Holscher asked incredulously.

"I don't know the exact number," Rice said. "I'm saying I don't know the number of employees."

Holscher also accused Rice, 47, of "checking out" of Enron beginning in 2001 to pursue his passion for race cars, an assertion Rice denied.

"I raced cars sometimes on weekends," he said.

Microsoft pushing extra

products with Office 2007

SEATTLE - Microsoft Corp. is pushing a host of additional products along with the next version of its business software suite, dubbed Office 2007, including specialized tools to help employees work together even if they are thousands of miles apart.

The various versions of the Office 2007 suite, due late this year, will cost about the same as the previous edition, Office 2003, which retails for $149 to $499. Microsoft does not release prices for versions it sells directly to businesses through licensing agreements, or through computermakers.

Microsoft also is adding a new, higher-end version of the suite aimed at businesses that need sophisticated ways to collaborate.

Price of oil drops by $1.92

The price of oil fell by almost $2 a barrel Wednesday after OPEC warned of weakening energy demand and the U.S. government confirmed what most traders had assumed: domestic supplies of oil and gasoline are rising.

Crude futures have plunged by more than $4 since the start of the week, settling below $58 a barrel for the first time in nearly two months.

"The downtrend is not showing any signs of stopping," said Tom Bentz, an oil broker at BNP Paribas Commodity Futures in New York. Bentz said it was hard to tell how far oil prices might fall, though he threw out $55 as a possible area of support.

Light sweet crude for March delivery declined by $1.92 to $57.65 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Third Cendant trial planned

HARTFORD, Conn. - Federal prosecutors said Tuesday they planned to try Walter Forbes, the former chairman of the Cendant Corp., a third time for accounting fraud, despite two trials that ended without a verdict.

In a telephone conference with Judge Alvin Thompson of U.S. District Court in Hartford, Michael Martinez, an assistant U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said, "The United States attorney now is considering all of our options, but as of the moment we are preparing for a retrial."

Forbes, 63, of New Canaan, Conn., was charged with conspiracy, securities fraud and submitting false reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission.