updated 7/15/2004 2:27:54 PM ET 2004-07-15T18:27:54

Enron Corp. received court approval Thursday to emerge from one of the most expensive bankruptcies in history.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Gonzalez in New York signed off on Enron's plan to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with no notable adjustments.

Houston-based Enron went bankrupt in December 2001 amid revelations of hidden debt, inflated profits and accounting skullduggery. Thousands of workers lost their jobs and millions of investors who hadn't already bolted watched their shares become worthless.

Dozens of people, including Enron founder and former chairman Kenneth Lay, former CEO Jeffrey Skilling and former finance chief Andrew Fastow, have been charged with crimes in the Justice Department's ongoing probe of what caused the collapse.

Fastow is among 10 former executives who have pleaded guilty, while Lay and Skilling are among 20 who have pleaded innocent and are facing trial.

The massive bankruptcy generated more than $665 million in fees for lawyers, accountants, consultants and examiners, according to the Texas Attorney General's office.

The ventures that once defined Enron as a leader in energy and other markets, such as trading and broadband, are long gone. The reorganization plan aims to pay most of the more than 20,000 creditors about $12 billion of the approximately $63 billion they are owed with cash raised, mostly from a series of asset sales, and with stock in one of three new companies created from Enron's remains under the reorganization plan.

Sales are pending for two of those companies _ CrossCountry Energy Corp., which comprises Enron's whole or part interest in three domestic natural gas pipelines, and Portland General Electric, its Pacific Northwest utility. The third is Prisma Energy International Inc., a smattering of pipeline and power assets in 14 countries, mostly in Latin America.

If the sales of CrossCountry and Portland General close later this year as expected, the $12 billion will be distributed to creditors with 92 percent in cash and 8 percent in Prisma stock.

If one or both of the sales crumble, creditors will receive less cash and more stock in the multiple companies. The Enron name will disappear.

CrossCountry has so far attracted two buyers.

The first bidder, Texas billionaire and Coastal Corp. founder Oscar Wyatt Jr., in May offered $2.2 billion. Then last month a joint venture of Southern Union Co. and GE Commercial Finance Energy Financial Services offered $2.3 billion. Both offers include $430 million in assumed debt. Gonzalez will consider those and any other bids at a Sept. 1 auction, and is slated to approve the winning bid Sept. 9.

CrossCountry's holdings are the 2,600-mile Transwestern pipeline, which transports gas from West Texas, Oklahoma, eastern New Mexico, the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico and southern Colorado to California, Arizona and Texas markets; half-ownership with El Paso Corp. of Citrus Corp., a holding company that owns the 5,000-mile Florida Gas Transmission pipeline from southeast Texas to Florida; and a less than 2 percent interest in Northern Border Partners, which transports natural gas from Canada to the Midwest.

Last year Enron announced plans to sell Portland General to an investment group backed by Texas Pacific Group for $1.25 billion in cash and $1.1 billion in assumed debt.

"Undoubtedly, this was an extremely complex bankruptcy. Today's court approval acknowledges not only the tremendous amount of work that has been accomplished during the last two and a half years, but also the overwhelming support of our economic constituents," said Stephen F. Cooper, Enron's acting CEO and chief restructuring officer, said in a news release.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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