updated 1/26/2004 11:29:37 AM ET 2004-01-26T16:29:37

Investigators looking into the “massive fraud” at Parmalat may need to take action against the Italian dairy giant’s bankers as well, the chief U.S. stock market regulator suggested Monday.

William Donaldson, chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, stressed that it was “too early to tell exactly what’s going on at Parmalat.

“Clearly there’s been a massive fraud,” he told a meeting organized by the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think-tank.

But he noted that in dissecting the recent scandal at the U.S. energy trader Enron, U.S. authorities concluded there had been “enablement” there by financial institutions.

“We took actions against not just Enron people but against some of their bankers because we felt that the bankers knew exactly what was going on,” Donaldson said in response to a question about lessons from the Enron scandal that might apply to the Parmalat probe.

J.P. Morgan, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch paid $135 million, $101 million and $80 million respectively to settle charges over their role in Enron’s fraud, without admitting or denying wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, a new audit of Parmalat found that the dairy conglomerate’s net debt was about $15.6 billion more than what it reported in the fall, months before the huge fraud scandal erupted, the company said Monday.

The audit, ordered by Parmalat’s court-appointed administrator to discover what the true books really showed, found that according to company accounts, net debt for the nine-month period ending Sept. 30 stood at $17.9 billion, and not at the $2.25 billion that Parmalat reported back then.

The latest debt figure was largely in line with estimates cited by economic observers in the early weeks of the scandal and some investigators.

The scandal exploded in December after the company admitted that it did not have a nearly $5 billion Bank of America account as Parmalat had stated in September. Bank of America has said that the letter testifying to the account was a forgery.

Soon after, Parmalat went into bankruptcy protection.

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