It sounds as if investigators looking for over a billion dollars in customer money in the wake of the collapse of MF Global have begun to despair of finding any. Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that the probe thus far strongly suggests that the money got “vaporized” in a labyrinth of shady trading and raids on supposedly segregated accounts, thanks to, er, “certain employees”:
Nearly three months after MF Global Holdings Ltd. collapsed, officials hunting for an estimated $1.2 billion in missing customer money increasingly believe that much of it might never be recovered, according to people familiar with the investigation.
As the sprawling probe that includes regulators, criminal and congressional investigators, and court-appointed trustees grinds on, the findings so far suggest that a “significant amount” of the money could have “vaporized” as a result of chaotic trading at MF Global during the week before the company’s Oct. 31 bankruptcy filing, said a person close to the investigation.
Many officials now believe certain employees at MF Global dipped into the “customer segregated account” that the New York company was supposed to keep separate from its own assets—and then used the money to meet demands for more collateral or to unfreeze assets at banks and other counterparties as they grew more concerned about their financial exposure to MF Global.
Investigators also are examining other scenarios that have gained traction in recent weeks, such as the possibility that MF Global suffered steep losses on investments made using customer money. Officials investigating the case have looked into whether such investments were appropriate under rules at the time.
If it’s the latter, then MF Global surely should have the records authorizing the trades. In that case, there’s no mystery, and investigators would not have spent the last three months looking under rocks from here to Gibraltar for the missing funds. If not, then there’s not much difference between the two scenarios; no one has speculated that someone went out the back door with bags of bearer bonds like Hans Gruber in Die Hard. The suspicion has always been that MF Global, under the leadership of Obama bundler and Democratic donor Jon Corzine, used customer money to cover its own bad bets and lost everyone’s money as a result.
Speaking of Corzine, Congress wants more answers from his MF Global leadership team, and it looks like they’re interested in the big man himself:
Lawmakers have pushed for answers from Jon S. Corzine, the former New Jersey governor and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. chairman who led MF Global into its big European bet and was CEO when the company failed.
On Thursday, a House Financial Services subcommittee will zero in on the securities firm’s risk-management practices and the role of credit-rating firms in the collapse. Among the people scheduled to testify at the hearing is Michael Roseman, a former chief risk officer at MF Global who raised serious concerns several times in 2010 about the growing bet on European bonds by Mr. Corzine.
It’s already well known that the strategy to go big on European debt was Corzine’s, and the rush to cover those bets — if that’s what happened — would have required authorization from someone high up in the company. Eventually, investigators will find someone willing to talk in exchange for a lighter sentence on a federal work farm, and the truth will spill out. That’s likely to happen sooner than finding the lost MF Global money.