Nearly $53 million in deferred compensation paid to 162 of Enron Corp.’s former best and brightest could be divided among the bankrupt trader’s creditors under a ruling Monday by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge handling the case in New York.

Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez approved a request by a court-sanctioned committee of former employees to try and recoup the millions, which were paid to the former and current executives in the few weeks before the Houston company filed for bankruptcy.

The delayed compensation list does not include several of the more infamous names, including former Chairman Kenneth Lay, former CEO Jeffrey Skilling nor former CFO Andrew Fastow.

The 162 who received payments had delayed receiving a portion of their salary over the years as part of a retirement plan. However, all had withdrawn their funds about four weeks before the company filed for bankruptcy. Gonzalez ruled that under bankruptcy law, this was an inappropriate grant because even though it was their money, the employees were effectively given preference over creditors. Preferential payments may not be made during the 90 days before a bankruptcy filing.

The 162 employees received 100% of the money they were owed, while many of the company’s creditors recovered less than 20%. The creditors are owed more than $60 billion.

Any of the 162 may avoid returning the compensation if they can prove it is a financial burden. Of the total, between $30 million to $40 million could be recovered, according to Enron lawyers.

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