MF Global’s Corzine Said to Face CFTC Suit on Collapse

Jon S. Corzine, the former New Jersey governor and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. co-chairman, probably will be sued by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for his role in the collapse of MF Global Holdings Ltd., said a person with direct knowledge of the situation.

The CFTC, the federal agency that regulated MF Global until the brokerage filed for bankruptcy in 2011, could sue Corzine as soon as this week, said the person, who asked for anonymity because the case isn’t public yet. Steve Adamske, a spokesman for the CFTC in Washington, declined to comment.

The suit against Corzine, 66, would mark a new low for the Wall Street veteran, who rose to the top of Goldman Sachs before being elected a New Jersey senator and then governor. He could face millions of dollars in fines and a ban from trading commodities if he’s found liable, the New York Times reported late yesterday.

“The CFTC apparently intends to bring what would be an unprecedented and meritless civil enforcement action against Mr. Corzine,” Steven Goldberg, a spokesman for the former governor, said in an e-mailed statement. “The CFTC has not alleged that Mr. Corzine engaged in any wrongdoing or directed anyone to engage in any wrongdoing with regard to customer funds.”

The Times, citing unidentified law enforcement officials, said the agency told Corzine’s lawyers it plans to file the case without giving him an opportunity to settle, which may result in a protracted legal fight.

Client Funds

The commission probably will blame the former chief executive officer for not preventing MF Global’s misuse of customer money, without directly linking him to the disappearance of more than $1 billion in client funds in the firm’s final days, the newspaper said, citing the officials.

“Better late than never,” said James Koutoulas, CEO of Typhon Capital Management LLC in Chicago and president of the Commodity Customer Coalition. The group urged regulators to pursue civil and criminal action following MF Global’s collapse and improve customer protection. The CFTC typically is conservative about taking such actions, “so the fact that they’ve done this bodes well that they think they can win,” he said.

Corzine’s Career

Corzine spent 24 years at Goldman Sachs, rising to become co-head of the firm with Henry Paulson, who later became the U.S. Treasury secretary. Corzine left Goldman Sachs in 1999 with an estimated $400 million as the firm went public. He then turned to politics, winning election to the Senate in 2000.

After five years in Washington, he became New Jersey’s governor in 2006 until his November 2009 loss to Republican Chris Christie in the governor’s race. Corzine was named chairman and CEO of MF Global in March 2010, remaking the futures brokerage into a smaller version of an investment bank.

“It’s a huge fall from grace,” Jim Antos, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd., said by telephone. “In a certain sense, he is already tainted because his company failed.”

Following almost two years of gathering evidence, criminal investigators concluded that porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the customer money to disappear, the newspaper said, citing the law enforcement officials with knowledge of the case.

The commission hasn’t told other top MF Global executives that they will be sued, the Times reported, citing lawyers briefed on the case. The CFTC is more likely to focus on lower-level employees in charge of protecting customer accounts, the newspaper said.

“The CFTC intends to allege that Mr. Corzine was negligent in failing to supervise experienced professionals who were in MF Global’s back office in Chicago and who did not report to Mr. Corzine,” Goldberg said. Investigators are second-guessing decisions made during the company’s crisis and the allegations are “without any factual or legal basis,” he said.

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