Solyndra executives refusing to answer bankruptcy questions

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Solyndra's CEO Brian Harrison and Chief Financial Officer Bill Stover at Capitol Hill for a House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing.

Susan Walsh/AP

Top executives at Solyndra have refused to tell U.S. officials whether they received executive bonuses after the company began to fail, and they have frustrated bankruptcy proceedings by refusing to provide any insight into the company’s sudden and dramatic shut-down, according to papers filed by Justice Department lawyers late Friday.

A Solyndra attorney told U.S. officials the reason he would not identify the company’s customers or talk about its contracts was because “the topic would likely be the subject of investigation and possibly litigation,” according to the court filing.

Among the questions executives declined to answer, according to the new bankruptcy filing: ”Whether Solyndra has a plan to repay the loan obtained from the U.S. Government.”

Word of Solyndra’s refusal to cooperate in bankruptcy proceedings comes just days after two top Solyndra executives declined to answer questions from Congress, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Details about their refusal to answer questions were revealed in papers filed by the attorneys representing the U.S. government during bankruptcy proceedings in Delaware. The solar company was awarded a $535 million federal loan as part of President Obama’s program to help spur growth in emerging forms of alternative energy. Now, federal lawyers are seeking to recover at least some of that money.

In their filing, government attorneys called on the bankruptcy court judge to put the company in the hands of an independent trustee, so its books could be pried open.

“Management’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment does not excuse them from performing their fundamental disclosure and reporting duties under the Bankruptcy Code,” the filing says.

One topic of concern to federal attorneys is the accuracy of Solyndra’s financial statements. According to a report Thursday by Bloomberg, a focus of a federal investigation into the firm’s behavior is whether it lied to Energy Department officials in order to secure additional financing after the company started to fail.

Friday’s filings note that Solyndra executives refused to say “whether financial information submitted or represented to investors, creditors, and others was accurate.”

The executives have also refused to say when they determined the company was in financial trouble, and “whether the company paid management bonuses after management realized the company’s poor financial condition.”

“Such topics lie at the core of the information that [Solyndra] must disclose,” the court filing said.

A spokesman for Solyndra has not replied to an email or phone calls seeking comment. In a separate filing earlier this month, Solyndra wrote: “The company is not aware of any wrongdoing by Solyndra officers, directors or employees in conjunction with the DOE loan guarantee or otherwise … ”

With Friday’s bankruptcy court filing, key questions emerge. Among them: What impact will the executives’ refusal to answer questions have on creditors’ attempts to recover money as the bankruptcy case moves forward? The U.S. loaned more than a half billion dollars to the startup company, but will stand behind investors in seeking to recover.

“Typically we don’t comment beyond our filing itself,” said Jane Limprecht, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office for U.S. Trustees.

In March, ABC News, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News, began reporting on simmering questions about the process that led the Obama administration to make Solyndra the first company to receive a loan under a program designed to provide government support to companies that would create jobs while generating energy from cleaner sources, such as solar, wind and nuclear. President Obama personally visited the Solyndra complex, hailing it as a leader in this emerging field. Solyndra's prime investor, George Kaiser, bundled donations for Obama in 2008.

In August, though, Solyndra abruptly shut its doors, laying off 1,100 workers. And within days it declared bankruptcy. The FBI raided the plant days later, part of an investigation that involves inspector generals for the Energy Department and the Treasury Department. In addition, Republicans in the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been working to dissect the deal and understand how signs of Solyndra's financial trouble had been overlooked by the Department of Energy.

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