Poor management decisions by MF Global former CEO Jon Corzine triggered the brokerage firm’s collapse, while lax protections for customer funds contributed to the loss of an estimated $1.6 billion of customer money, congressional investigators have determined.
Evidence unearthed by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight puts the blame squarely on Corzine, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, said in a preview of the report that will be released on Thursday.
“The responsibility for failing to maintain the systems and controls necessary to protect customer funds rests with Corzine,” the report says. “This failure represents a dereliction of his duty as MF Global’s chairman and CEO.”
Except anyone paying the slightest attention, I mean. It has been beyond blindingly obvious since even before the implosion of the brokerage that Corzine was gambling for resurrection, and made the decisions that destroyed MF Global. It was also clear that the firm was a managerial mess, a disaster waiting to happen.
A spokesman for Mr. Corzine said that “all of the firm’s significant business decisions…were subject to review, debate and approval” by MF Global’s board. “At all times, Mr. Corzine acted in good faith and did what he believed was necessary to turn around MF Global.”
Because boards are never, ever, ever the creatures of domineering, out of control CEOs.
The spokesman, Steven Goldberg, said that the panel didn’t find any evidence of “intentional wrongdoing” and that Mr. Corzine was working to turn around an already-failing business.
I see. Taking huge risks-and running roughshod over risk controls to do so-is a turn-around strategy that only unintentionally results in mayhem. His intentions were good, so everything’s just fine. Big harm, no foul-because he didn’t mean it.
The fact that MF Global was “already failing” is precisely the motive for Corzine’s rashness.
The Neugebauer panel punts on the most important open question: who was directly responsible for the loss of customer money? We all know that Corzine was the first mover who set of the chain of events that ultimately led to the looting of MFG’s not-so-segregated customer funds. We knew that on Halloween, 2011. But why, pray tell, we don’t know exactly who authorized this looting more than a year and two weeks after the firm’s collapse?
As I’ve written before, Edith O’Brien is essential to answering that question, but Edith O’Brien is silent because prosecutors refuse to grant immunity.
In the scheme of things, she doesn’t matter. It is highly unlikely that she would have taken it upon herself to throw good customer money after bad Corzine bets. And even if she did, letting her escape legal punishment would have no effect on the odds of a future recurrence of such a debacle. It is more likely that someone else higher up in the firm made the call. Given Corzine’s dominance, he is the most likely candidate for making that call. Letting him skate would set a bad precedent that would encourage other CEOs to engage in such misconduct. The balance of costs and benefits is clearly on the side of getting Ms. O’Brien’s testimony.
And indeed, this is Federal Financial Crime Prosecution 101: go for the big fish by catching and releasing the little ones. The failure to follow this tried-and-true strategy is quite revealing, given the identity of the biggest fish: a made man in the Democratic Party, a former Senator and governor, and fund raiser for Obama.
Because of this pointed refusal to do something that would put Corzine at risk, the MF Global collapse remains the Immaculate Destruction, and the firm remains the Financial House Not Destroyed by Human Hands. And the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight does nothing to resolve that mystery.