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Senate Agriculture Committee hearing tries to make sense of firm’s collapse
The search for integrity
That didn’t stop committee members from trying to box the executives in. Barring deliberate transfers, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven wondered how MF Global’s customer accounts could be short.
“We had customers also withdrawing funds from the firm,” claimed Corzine. “There are all kinds of transactions associated with that. ... There are possibilities in the repurchase agreements – the proper use of Rule 1.25 investments -- between the FCM and broker dealer that could have broken down.”
The customer funds that are short dollars “were either moved out of their accounts for the benefit of the firm,” said Hoeven. “Or, you have an accounting error and you have a responsibility to make sure you have an accounting system that properly segregates those dollars.”
“There could have been breakdowns in those systems,” said Corzine. “We believed we had the people, the procedures, and the policies in place to protect client segregated funds.”
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley was “baffled” by the inability of the MF Global executives to answer basic questions. The trio’s “supposed lack of knowledge ... is alarming. I want answers and Iowa farmers want answers.”
Grassley then began a series of questions -- asking for names of MF Global employees able to provide answers that the executives wouldn’t -- that was picked up by other committee members. The reluctant executives provided only several names and eventually pointed to the firm’s treasury department.
Roberts loudly wondered how much testimony it would take “before we finally drill down and find someone’s name who knows what the heck is going on?” He suggested Abelow put together a chart of the firm’s hierarchy and employee names “and we’ll finally get down to the custodian.”
Upon learning of the customer fund shortage “what did you say to each other?” asked Conrad. “If it was me, the first thing that would come to my mind is ‘how in the hell did this happen?’ Did you have a theory?”
Corzine said his reaction was to “marshal resources ... and find out where the money is and why we’re out of reconciliation. Then, step back and let the people who know how to read the thousands of pages of records, get on with the business.”
With so much MF Global client money missing, Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns went looking for “some person who had sufficient integrity to say ‘Oh, my lord. Client money is disappearing and I need to talk to the boss.’ Are you aware of anybody in the organization” who alerted MF Global leaders “something very, very serious is happening?”
There was no such person or warning, Johanns was told. “Do you realize how incredible that sounds to this committee? $1.2 billion – the first time in history it had happened – could get drained away from customers and it doesn’t come to your attention or someone doesn’t seek your authorization? Doesn’t that strike you as incredible?”
For all witnesses’ prepared testimony, see here.