BUSINESS
10/12/2011 01:26 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2011

Solyndra CEO leaves, high-profile fixer lined up

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del (Reuters) - Solyndra, the solar panel maker that collapsed despite a U.S. government infusion of $535 million, wants to appoint a high-profile bankruptcy expert to run it after the departure of its chief executive.

Solyndra asked the bankruptcy court to let it hire Todd Neilson of Berkeley Research Group LLC as its chief restructuring officer, according to documents filed on Tuesday at the Delaware court.

Neilson, a former FBI special agent, was bankruptcy trustee for former world boxing champion Mike Tyson, hip-hop record label Death Row Records and its controversial chief executive Marion "Suge" Knight Jr.

He would essentially take up the role of chief executive after the previous CEO, Brian Harrison "left the company as scheduled on October 7," the company said in the filing, giving no further details.

The request comes just ahead of a major solar industry trade show in Dallas next week. The court previously had ordered Solyndra officials to attend the conference to try to find a buyer.

Neilson's firm has an hourly billing rate of $770, according to the court filing. Neilson was not immediately available for comment.

Neither Harrison's lawyer nor a Solyndra spokesman could be reached immediately for comment.

POLITICAL EMBARRASSMENT

Solyndra filed for bankruptcy on September 6, burdened with $783 million of secured debt and squeezed by falling prices for solar panels caused by an industry glut.

The Department of Energy guaranteed the $535 million loan to the company that Solyndra has said may not be repaid in full.

Its downfall has become a political embarrassment for the Obama administration, which had promoted it as an example of how it planned to spur development in clean energy technology.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are investigating the loan, and plan a hearing for Friday to examine concerns the Treasury Department had about a decision earlier this year to restructure Solyndra's debt.

The panel has invited Treasury's Gary Grippo, deputy assistant secretary for fiscal operations and policy, and Gary Burner, chief financial officer of the Federal Financing Bank, according to a committee document.

Harrison appeared as a witness before the panel last month but refused to answer questions, invoking his right against self-incrimination provided by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

Harrison had joined the start-up company shortly after it canceled an initial public offering last year, and was in charge as it struggled to find cash to keep operating, and restructured its debt.

He angered lawmakers on Capitol Hill after he painted a rosy picture of the company's prospects only weeks before the company filed for bankruptcy.

The company was raided by the FBI after it filed for bankruptcy, and the FBI also visited Harrison's home.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; editing by Philip Barbara)