Jon S. Corzine, MF Global Holding Ltd. (MFGLQ)’s chief executive officer, gave “direct instructions” to transfer $200 million from a customer fund account to meet an overdraft in a brokerage account with JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), according to a memo written by congressional investigators.
Edith O’Brien, a treasurer for the firm, said in an e-mail quoted in the memo that the transfer was “Per JC’s direct instructions,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by Bloomberg News. The e-mail, dated Oct. 28, was sent three days before the company collapsed, the memo says. The memo does not indicate whether that phrase was the full text of the e-mail or an excerpt.
O’Brien’s internal e-mail was sent as the New York-based broker found intraday credit lines limited by JPMorgan, the firm’s clearing bank as well as one of its custodian banks for segregated customer funds, according to the memo, which was prepared for a March 28 House Financial Services subcommittee hearing on the firm’s collapse. O’Brien is scheduled to testify at the hearing after being subpoenaed this week.
“Over the course of that week, MF Global (MFGLQ)’s financial position deteriorated, but the firm represented to its regulators and self-regulatory organizations that its customers’ segregated funds were safe,” said the memo, written by Financial Services Committee staff and sent to lawmakers.
Steven Goldberg, a spokesman for Corzine, said in a statement that Corzine “never gave any instruction to misuse customer funds and never intended anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds.”
Vinay Mahajan, global treasurer of MF Global Holdings, wrote an e-mail on Oct. 28 that said JPMorgan was “holding up vital business in the U.S. as a result” of the overdrawn account, which had to be “fully funded ASAP,” according to the memo.
Barry Zubrow, JPMorgan’s chief risk officer, called Corzine to seek assurances that the funds belonged to MF Global and not customers. JPMorgan drafted a letter to be signed by O’Brien to ensure that MF Global was complying with rules requiring customers’ collateral to be segregated. The letter was not returned to JPMorgan, the memo said.
The money transferred came from a segregated customer account, according to congressional investigators. Segregated accounts can include customer money and excess company funds.
Corzine, 65, in testimony in front of the House panel in December, said he did not order any improper transfer of customer funds. Corzine also testified that he never intended a misuse of customer funds at MF Global, and that he doesn’t know where client funds went.
“I never gave any instruction to misuse customer funds, I never intended anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds and I don’t believe that anything I said could reasonably have been interpreted as an instruction to misuse customer funds,” Corzine told lawmakers in December.
In his statement, Goldberg said Corzine did not specify which funds should be used to replenish the JPMorgan account.
“He never directed Ms. O’Brien or anyone else regarding which account should be used to cure the overdrafts, and he never directed that customer funds should be used for that purpose,” Goldberg said. “Nor was he informed that customer funds had been used for that purpose.”
The bankruptcy trustee overseeing the liquidation of the company’s brokerage subsidiary has estimated a $1.6-billion shortfall between customer claims and assets available.
Lawmakers and investigators from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice have been reviewing events leading up to MF Global’s bankruptcy filing. Executives including Corzine, a Democrat who served in the Senate before he was elected governor of New Jersey, gave testimony on the collapse at three congressional hearings last year.
“If client funds were transferred at his direction, it raises new questions,” Seth Berenzweig, managing partner at Berenzweig Leonard LLP, a law firm in McLean, Virginia, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “This is a new storm cloud that is now headed for Jon Corzine and it raises a lot of issues.”
Representative Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Financial Services oversight and investigations subcommittee, is preparing a final report on his investigation into the firm’s failure.
‘What Went Wrong’
“One of the goals of our investigation is not only to find out where the money went but to identify what went wrong in order to prevent this from happening again,” Neugebauer said in a statement.
O’Brien is scheduled to appear before lawmakers with Christine Serwinski and Laurie Ferber, two other MF Global executives named by Corzine as being involved in the transaction, according to the memo. Henri Steenkamp , the firm’s chief financial officer, is also scheduled to testify, as is a representative from JPMorgan who has not yet been identified.
MF Global and its brokerage sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy after a $6.3 billion bet on the bonds of some of Europe’s most indebted nations prompted regulator concerns and a credit rating downgrade. Corzine quit MF Global Nov. 4.
During his testimony, O’Brien was identified by Corzine as someone with knowledge of a transfer of funds from customer accounts before the firm sought bankruptcy protection Oct. 31.
Reid H. Weingarten, O’Brien’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.
The memo’s account of the e-mail exchanges aligns with what Terrence Duffy, the executive chairman at CME Group Inc. (CME), told lawmakers during a December congressional hearing. Auditors at CME, which had authority to oversee MF Global, learned from an employee of the brokerage that Corzine knew about the loans involving a European affiliate, Duffy told committee members.
By Phil Mattingly and Silla Brush
Courtesy of Bloomberg News