Financial Markets

Was Corzine’s Testimony About MF Global Truthful?

Was Corzine’s Testimony About MF Global Truthful?
By R. Tamara de SilvaDecember 13, 2011

Testimony before Congress today revealed that MF Global had illegally transferred $175 million out of customer segregated funds towards its European broker-dealer operations before it went into bankruptcy proceedings and very much under Jon Corzine’s stewardship. On December 8, 2011 and again today before Congress, Corzine testified under oath that he was not aware of any illegal transfer. Today’s testimony of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group Chairman, Terrance A. Duffy suggests that Corzine did know about the transfer.

My last article on MF Global stated that $1.2 billion in losses may have been incurred due to over-leveraged positions in European sovereign debt that coincidentally took a dramatic turn for the worse (they did in fact) during the last weeks of October, or alternatively, that MF Global had engaged in some late stage embezzlement of customer funds that are supposed to be segregated from MF Global’s accounts and never commingled with any other funds.[1]

It now appears that Jon Corzine may be the best example of the why it makes sense to invoke the Fifth Amendment if you are not inclined to be anything other than completely honest because you simply will not get away with anything other than complete honesty under oath. Corzine testified before the House Agriculture Committee December 8, 2011 and today before the Senate Agriculture Committee. Today, according to the testimony of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group (“CME”), Chairman Terrance A. Duffy, Corzine may have lied.

In Corzine’s December 8th testimony, he essentially hems and haws and states that he cannot recall much of anything, things were chaotic during the last days of MF Global, he was completely lacking in mens rea, would not have authorized any transfer of customer money out of segregated funds, does not have all the records after he resigned and certainly did not intentionally do anything wrong. Nothing other than attempting to mislead Congress and lying.

On December 13, 2011, Corzine testifies that, “I never directed anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds. I never intended to. And, as far as I am concerned, I never gave instructions that anybody could misconstrue.”

Also on December 13, 2011 Terrance Duffy, Jill Sommers, Commissioner of the CFTC and James Giddens, MF Global’s bankruptcy trustee also testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee.

In Mr. Duffy’s testimony he says that the CME has been conducting their own ongoing investigation of MF Global and discovered on December 10, 2011, after questioning a former MF Global employee who knew about the transfer of $175 of customer funds towards MF Global’s broker dealer operations (I am speculating that this was likely done to meet margin requirements on European debt bets that the firm thought would bounce back in time before anyone was the wiser) that Corzine knew all about the transfers. If Corzine knew about the transfer of $175 million, his testimony to the House Committee of December 8, 2011 wherein he stated that he knew nothing about it was untruthful. Corzine may well have already perjured himself.

Remember that on October 26, 2011, the CME had performed a spot audit on MF Global. On October 24, 2011, the CME initiated a heightened scrutiny of the segregated customer fund reporting of MF Global as a result of MF Global’s market risk. Beginning on October 24, 2011, the CME’s daily audits verified that customer funds were on deposit at the bank(s) where MF Global represented that they were and in the amount that they were supposed to be.

On October 26, 2011, the CFTC also went into MF Global to make sure that what MF Global reported to be holding in customer segregated funds matched bank balances. The CFTC’s spot audit showed that no money was missing.

On October 25, 2011 MF Global reported a substantial quarterly loss due to having leverage of 40:1 on its exposure to European sovereign debt. Predictably, MF Global’s stock collapsed and it its bonds began to trade at distressed levels. Corzine utilized all MF Global’s credit lines and tried to secure a sale of the firm to Interactive Brokers. On October 26 or October 27, 2011 MF Global provided reports to the CME and CFTC that it had a $200 million surplus in customer accounts. In reality on October 27, 2011, it was covering up a $200 million deficit in customer funds.

Five days later on October 31, 2011, MF Global filed for bankruptcy. But MF Global had already lied to both the CME and CFTC and violated CFTC rules and committed fraud and embezzlement.

On the morning of November 2, 2011, the CME announced that MF Global may have transferred money “
in a manner that may have been designed to avoid detection insofar as MF Global
 did not disclose or report such transfers to the CFTC or CME until early morning on Monday, October 31, 2011.” [2]

The first hint of missing customer funds came out in press report on October 31, 2011 when Interactive Brokers announced they are walking away from a purchase of MF Global due to accounting discrepancies. At first MF Global denied anything of the sort, only to admit on November 1, 2011 that there were shortfalls in customer accounts. [3]

There are in excess of $158 billion in customer-segregated funds in the United States. The futures markets unlike the securities markets have existed without any meaningful problem or shortfall in domestic customer segregated funds and without needing the existence of any protection like SIPC until October 31, 2011. It is inarguable that the futures markets have been the most crisis-free well functioning markets in the world and remain so. It is unfortunate that because of Jon Corzine these markets may now be portrayed as somehow unsafe for the investment of public funds.

The answer to Corzine is not more regulation but as I have written before, a simple amendment of CFTC Rule 1.25 to prohibit the investment of customer segregated funds in foreign sovereign debt-this amendment has already occurred. It was Corzine himself who lobbied for the change in Rule 1.25 to allow for customer-segregated funds to be held in foreign debt instruments.

Regulation can never rule out the rogue actor or sociopath and must not try because there really are not that many around-Corzine being a case in point. What is least needed is a reactionary and wholesale change in the regulation of the futures markets.@

R. Tamara de Silva Chicago, Illinois December 13, 2011
R. Tamara de Silva is a securities lawyer and independent trader
2. 3.

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