The Securities and Exchange Commission is preparing to fine telephone-equipment giant Nortel Networks as much as $100 million for accounting fraud, according to published reports. The reports also noted that SEC attorneys sought permission from the commissioners to inflict a fine of less than $100 million -- the first instance of a new policy that gives the politically appointed commissioners more say in corporate penalties. Previously, attorneys negotiated settlements without consulting the commissioners. Toronto-based Nortel inflated its earnings by $3.4 billion between 2001 and 2004, when the SEC began an investigation of the company's accounting. As an indicator of the scale of the possible fine, late in 2006, federal judges signed off on an estimated $2.4 billion payout by Nortel to settle a shareholder lawsuit.

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