NEW YORK (AP) — A federal bankruptcy judge Friday approved a plan to revive Enron Corp.'s flagship energy trading operation under the control of a Swiss investment bank.
UBS Warburg, a division of Switzerland's UBS AG, won't pay anything for the Enron division or assume any debt, but Enron and its creditors will get a third of the new operation's pretax profits.
Judge Arthur Gonzalez said the sale would be in the "best interest" of the company. He called it "the only mechanism to maintain value for the whole sales trading business."
Under the deal with UBS Warburg, Enron and its creditors could get more than $2 billion in royalties and other payments if UBS Warburg eventually exercises a buyout option. Restructuring expert Steven Zelin said earlier that the trading operation's value, if liquidated, would be "substantially less" than $50 million.
"We're pleased by the court's decision and we look forward to re-establishing the business," said David Walker, a spokesman for UBS Warburg.
He said executives hoped to get the business running soon, but could not provide a time frame. Lawyers for Enron had predicted the new division could be operating within two months.
No decision has been made on a new name for the division, but Walker said the Enron name would disappear.
Enron spokesman Mark Palmer called the judge's approval of the plan "great news."
"It is a key step in our reorganization of the company so that we can begin to make our creditors whole, pay our employees and hopefully one day soon come out of bankruptcy," Palmer said.
Earlier, Enron lawyer Martin Beinenstock said the deal would save jobs and "literally create billions of dollars for this estate and its creditors."
He downplayed claims by some creditors that Enron traders who will work for the new operation will use their knowledge of the company's existing trading positions for their benefit.
About 800 people work in the division. Many will be part of the new operation, but Walker would not give a precise figure.
Enron collapsed late last year amid revelations of complex partnerships used to keep billions of dollars in debt off its books and mask financial problems so it could continue to get cash and credit to run the trading business.
Before that, it was the world's largest energy merchant and the nation's seventh largest company by revenue.
Under the deal approved Friday, Enron and its creditors will initially get 33 percent of the new business' pretax profits and UBS Warburg the remainder. After three years, UBS Warburg can begin to buy out some of those profit-sharing rights and eventually buy the rights to all the profits. And after five years, UBS can sell the business.
The deal does not include existing contracts Enron has to supply power, valued at between $6 billion and $7 billion after Enron filed for bankruptcy last month. Many of those contracts, however, have since been closed and the current value of the contracts is about $1.2 billion, Beinenstock said.
A creditors' committee unanimously supported the deal, but other Enron creditors questioned it, saying they wanted more information about how the agreement was reached and how the proceeds will be allocated. Dissatisfied creditors will have 10 days to appeal Gonzalez's ruling.
On the Net: www.enron.com