Ailing former WorldCom chief executive Bernard Ebbers ordered freed from prison

A 2006 photo shows Bernard Ebbers exiting a Manhattan federal court in New York. PHOTO: AP

NEW YORK (AP) - A former top executive sentenced to 25 years in prison in one of the largest corporate accounting scandals in US history was ordered freed from prison on Wednesday (Dec 18) for medical reasons.

US District Judge Valerie E. Caproni ordered the release of former WorldCom chief Bernard Ebbers after hearing lawyers discuss his medical condition.

Ebbers was not in court and his lawyers said he was hospitalised on Wednesday.

Several family members for Ebbers who attended the proceeding rejoiced, sobbing and hugging one another, when the judge announced her ruling and said a written decision would be released at a later time.

"I'll get to hold his hand," one woman called out.

Another threw her arms into the air as the judge stepped down from the bench.

Caproni said it fell within her discretion to order the early release after a lawyer cited severe medical problems for the 78-year-old Ebbers and said his weight had dropped from above 90kg to 66kg last week.

The Mississippi-based WorldCom collapsed and went into bankruptcy in 2002, causing losses to stockholders, including people who had invested through retirement plans.

The judge said she had received letters from some who never recovered from huge financial losses to say he should be left to die in prison.

But other letters were written in support.

Ebbers was convicted in New York in 2005 on securities fraud and other charges and received a 25-year sentence.

He has been imprisoned since September 2006.

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