By National Association of Wheat Growers
Former MF Global chief executive Jon Corzine told Members of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday he does not know where missing customer money from his company is, and he does not have more information about how much is missing than what anyone can read in the press. In his first Congressional testimony on the matter, Corzine said he, too, has questions about what happened at the company and without records and documents he no longer has access to, he can’t provide much help to investigators.
Corzine appeared at the hearing under a subpoena, the first of three issued so far by Congressional committees.
In his opening statement, he accepted responsibility for trades involving European sovereign debt, saying he “strongly advocated” the strategy. He also said, however, that MF Global’s board members were “independent and sophisticated” and while he ultimately had overall responsibility for the firm, he didn’t have day-to-day oversight and is not an expert on all relevant regulations.
Witnesses from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the law firm working with the bankruptcy trustee also testified before the Committee Thursday, shedding some light on the situation as investigators currently understand it.
James Kobak, lead counsel for the bankruptcy trustee, said the shortfall could be as “as much as $1.2 billion or more,” and the trustee is focused on determining how much money is missing, where it went and how to get it back.
Though he said no one will know exactly how much money is owed to customers until the claims process is complete in about seven weeks, based on what is known now, those who don’t have their funds back in hand could expect to receive an estimated 69-70 percent.
When questioned about the priority customers will have in getting back their money, as compared with other debt holders, Kobak said customers have an “exclusive right” to their funds and that the trustee would pursue other sources of funds if they are available legally.
Both Kobak and CFTC Commissioner Jill Sommers emphasized how complicated MF Global’s trades and records were, noting that the investigation is not yet able to draw many definitive conclusions.
Earlier in the week, the CFTC approved a new rule about how commodity firms can use customer funds, which has been generally praised though its full impact is not yet clear.
MF Global, a derivatives broker-dealer, declared bankruptcy on Oct. 31. Since that time, federal and international investigators have been working through the company’s records to determine what precipitated its failure and to locate the missing customer money.
The bankruptcy and lost money has touched farmers, grain handlers and others throughout the country, with nearly every Member on the House Ag panel saying he or she had heard from affected constituents.
In addition to the customer losses, which may or may not ever be recovered, the bankruptcy has threatened systemic confidence in the futures market, which is the key tool for agricultural interests seeking to manage their risk.
The Senate Agriculture Committee announced this week a witness list for its MF Global oversight hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 13. That panel unanimously voted to subpoena Corzine to appear at the session alongside other executives of the company, regulators and MF Global customers.
The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has also subpoenaed Corzine, for a Dec. 15 hearing.
NAWG and other farmer and ag finance organizations recently wrote Congressional agriculture leaders urging careful oversight of the situation. Those letters are available at www.wheatworld.org/othercorrespondence.
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