Former WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers took the witness stand yesterday and flatly denied he ever knew that accountants were cooking the books...

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NEW YORK — Former WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers took the witness stand yesterday and flatly denied he ever knew that accountants were cooking the books at the company.

Under questioning from his top lawyer, Ebbers explicitly refuted the testimony of former finance chief Scott Sullivan, who claimed earlier in the trial that Ebbers pressured him to falsify company financial statements.

“I wasn’t advised by Scott Sullivan of anything ever being wrong,” Ebbers said. “He’s never told me he made an entry that wasn’t right. If he had, we wouldn’t be here today.”

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The matter-of-fact denial was perhaps the most dramatic moment in the 5-week-old trial of Ebbers, who is accused by the government of orchestrating the $11 billion fraud that sank WorldCom in 2002.

Placing Ebbers on the witness stand to defend himself represented a huge gamble for the defense. Ebbers was questioned by his chief defense lawyer, Reid Weingarten, for about four hours.

Prosecutors began their cross-examination late in the day, asking Ebbers about old mergers and acquisitions and attempting to show that he had more than a passing familiarity with finances and accounting.

In one agitated 1999 memo to a WorldCom subordinate, for example, Ebbers demanded to know “all the details ASAP,” with the word “all” underlined and in bold, about a business arrangement with General Motors.

Ebbers denied all of the conversations in which Sullivan claims he told Ebbers improper accounting was taking place.

Ebbers is charged with fraud, conspiracy and making seven false filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The charges carry up to 85 years in prison.