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Corzine's risky moves felled MF Global financial firm, GOP critics say

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By Gannett News Service
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:20 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — The MF Global financial firm collapsed last year because of mistakes made by Jon Corzine, its former chairman and former governor of New Jersey, said Republicans on a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

Corzine's push to convert the 230-year-old commodities brokerage firm into a full-service investment bank caused its bankruptcy and resulted in a failure to protect customer funds, said Rep. Randy Neugebauer, chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

“Corzine dramatically changed MF Global's business model without fully understanding the risks associated with such a radical transformation,” Neugebauer said in a statement. “Farmers, ranchers and other customers may never get back over $1 billion of their money as a result of his decisions.”

On Thursday, the subcommittee will release the full results of its yearlong investigation into the collapse of MF Global. The probe consisted of three hearings, more than 50 witness interviews and a review of more than 243,000 documents. The report also examined the role that regulators and credit rating agencies played in the firm's downfall.

According to a summary of the findings released on Wednesday, Corzine set up an authoritarian leadership structure that allowed him to make risky investments in European bonds, prompting a downgrade of the firm's credit rating. The move prompted investors to pull their money from the firm, which in turn led the firm to use other clients' money to cover its losses.

“By expanding MF Global into new business lines without first returning its core commodities business to profitability, Corzine ensured that the company would face enormous resource demands and exposed it to new risks that it was ill-equipped to handle,” the subcommittee's report states.

To generate the revenue needed to fund the firm's transformation, Corzine invested heavily in the sovereign debt of struggling European countries. The investments, which carried risks of default and other problems, were a “prime focus” of Corzine's attention, but he failed to develop a strategy for managing the risks, the subcommittee found.

MF Global Holdings filed the eighth-largest bankruptcy in the United States a year ago after a $1.6 billion shortfall in client money was discovered.

Corzine, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, represented New Jersey in the Senate from 2001-06. He served as governor from 2006-10 and was CEO of MF Global in 2010 and 2011. He resigned from the firm shortly after it filed for bankruptcy. He told Congress that he does not know what happened to customers' money.

None of MF Global's executives, including Corzine, have faced civil or criminal charges in connection with the firm's collapse.

“However, the responsibility for failing to maintain the systems and controls necessary to protect customer funds rests with Corzine,” the report states. “This failure represents a dereliction of his duty as MF Global's chairman and CEO.”

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