House report blames Corzine for collapse of MF Global
By Dina ElBoghdady,
A congressional report that deconstructs the collapse of MF Global concludes that the brokerage firm’s former head, Jon S. Corzine, sank the company by making risky investments and sidelining senior executives who challenged his strategies.
The report, scheduled for release Thursday, details the findings of a year-long investigation by Republican staffers on the House Financial Services oversight subcommittee. But it omits any mention of criminal wrongdoing by Corzine, punting that issue to the prosecutors and regulators who have launched their own probes into the matter.
Instead, it skewers Corzine for his “authoritarian” management style and reckless business strategies, many of which were carried out without the full knowledge of the company’s board of directors — assertions that Corzine’s legal team denied on Wednesday.
“At all times, Mr. Corzine acted in good faith and did what he believed was necessary to turn around MF Global,” his spokesman, Steven Goldberg, said in a statement. He added that Corzine has not yet reviewed the full report, excerpts of which were released on Wednesday.
MF Global filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2011 after making a disastrous decision to invest heavily in European bonds. Corzine resigned as chairman and chief executive days later. He has been under scrutiny ever since — with much attention focused on how $1.6 billion vanished from the firm’s client funds leading up to the collapse.
The episode marked the spectacular fall of a long-established company and its high-profile leader — a Democrat who once co-chaired Goldman Sachs, served one term in the U.S. Senate and then went on to serve four years as governor of New Jersey.
The report portrays Corzine’s bets on the debt of struggling European countries as a desperate attempt to save a failing business and a strategy that was not properly vetted by MF Global’s board of directors because Corzine “insulated” his trading activities.
Corzine acted as MF Global’s “de facto chief trader,” using the European bonds as collateral in certain transactions that were kept off the books, the report said. When the firm’s chief risk officer balked at the size of the European bond portfolio, Corzine brushed aside the warnings and managed to keep the complaints away from the board, it said.
Last-minute disclosure of the size of the European portfolio and a dismal earnings report led the credit-rating agencies to downgrade the company’s debt to junk status, setting off the equivalent of a “run on the bank” that ultimately doomed the firm, the report said.
In its struggle to inject liquidity into the company, MF Global employees ended up tapping customer funds, the report said. The failure to protect those funds amounts to a ”dereliction of duty” on Corzine’s part, the report concluded.
“Farmers, ranchers and other customers may never get back over $1 billion of their money as a result of [Corzine’s] decisions,” Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.), the House panel’s chairman, said in a statement.
The subcommittee’s leading Democrat, Rep. Michael E. Capuano of Massachusetts, said that he agrees with some of the report’s observations. Others need more commentary, which is why he and other Democrats will provide an addendum to the report, he said.
Corzine’s team denied just about every claim the subcommittee made.
In his statement, Corzine’s spokesman said the transactions highlighted in the report were fully disclosed in the company’s annual earnings report in May 2011 and in a quarterly earnings statement released four months later.
The spokesman also said that Corzine’s strategies were “subject to review, debate and approval” by the board, as were the European investments, which the board capped at certain levels.
As for the customer losses Neugebauer mentioned, 80 percent of customer money has been returned so far, the spokesman said. Corzine has told Congress several times that he does not know how an estimated $1.6 billion went missing from customer funds.