Corzine amends comments about MF fund transfers

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Former MF Global chief Jon Corzine corrected his earlier statements about the hundreds of millions of dollars in missing customer money, telling lawmakers on Tuesday there was no way to confuse anything he said as an authorization to raid those funds.

He also conceded there were "break the glass" contingency plans at the now-bankrupt futures brokerage, but under questioning denied that tapping customer funds was recommended.

The Senate Agriculture Committee held on Tuesday the second hearing in under a week to feature Corzine, who has said he does not know what happened to the money.

Corzine told lawmakers last week that he "never intended" to break rules about keeping customer funds segregated from firm money, but said that an employee may have misinterpreted instructions to try to save the firm.

"Someone could misinterpret 'You gotta fix it,' which I said the evening of October 30th,'" Corzine said on Dec. 8.

On Tuesday, Corzine said, "I want to be clear - I never gave any instructions to misuse customer funds, I never intended anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds."

The futures brokerage filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31, after it was forced to reveal it bet $6.3 billion on European sovereign debt. That disclosure caused ratings downgrades and saw nervous investors and customers begin to flee the firm.

Corzine resigned as chief executive days after the bankruptcy filing.

The search for the missing customer funds has sent reverberations through the farm belt and trading floors, and has attracted the attention of the FBI and federal prosecutors. They are trying to determine whether customer funds were diverted to firm accounts, a major violation of industry rules.

In the meantime, thousands of customers have had their money frozen, although some has been returned as the trustee in the bankruptcy sorts through MF Global's records.

Corzine, dressed in a somber dark suit with his lawyer seated behind him, reiterated on Tuesday that he does not know where the money is.

He was joined by two top-ranking Mf Global executives, Chief Operating Officer Bradley Abelow and Chief Financial Officer Henri Steenkamp, who also said they lacked answers about the money.

Senator Pat Roberts, the top Republican on the committee, asked the executives and Corzine whether MF Global leadership asked for and received "an actual plan that would break the glass and tap into your customers' segregated accounts, perhaps described as a loan."

Corzine admitted there were contingency plans that "fall under the rubric" that Roberts was talking about, but he said it did not involving raiding customer money.

"To my knowledge and understanding of that report it was not ever the intent to recommend tapping into segregated customer funds."

Abelow said he had not reviewed the specific document.

JPMORGAN FLAGGED OVERDRAFTS

Corzine on Tuesday was willing to speculate more on why some money is not accounted for.

He said in the final days of MF Global, he directed the sale of $1.3 billion in commercial paper, hundreds of millions of dollars in MF Global proprietary assets, and $4.5 billion in government agency bonds.

"As I sit here, I didn't, do not know whether all of these and many other transactions were properly recorded and effectuated, or whether banks and other counterparties involved in such transactions properly credited the right accounts for these sales," Corzine told lawmakers.

He also revealed more about when problems with segregated funds were brought to his attention.

Corzine remained firm that he did not know there was a misuse of customer funds until Sunday, Oct. 30.

But he said on Tuesday that on Oct. 28 JPMorgan Chase contacted him and other MF Global employees about "certain overdrafts" and asked whether funds had been transferred in compliance with Commodity Futures Trading Commission rules.

Corzine said he had no personal knowledge about the issue, so he asked senior people in MF Global's back office in Chicago and in the firm's legal department to become directly involved.

"So even in the midst of the chaotic last days of business, I had confidence in our people and systems," Corzine said.

'DARK AGES'

Senators were frustrated by the testimony, frequently asking the executives and Corzine "Where's the money?" and "What happened?"

"It's now been a month a half since the firm collapsed and customer money is still nowhere to be found," Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said.

"This isn't the Dark Ages. MF Global didn't keep their books with feather quills and dusty ledgers. The rules about keeping customer money segregated are pretty straightforward."

Senators repeatedly asked the executives point blank if they authorized the transfer of customer money into firm coffers.

Steenkamp said, "I did not authorize approval, no, of any transfers of customer funds."

Abelow said, "To the best of my recollection, I do not recall participating in any conversation about the use of customer funds, customer segregated funds and assets...for any purpose other than what they were intended to be used for."

'CALLED STEALING BACK ON MAIN STREET'

Farmers who became collateral damage from the collapse of MF Global got a chance to air their frustrations, telling lawmakers on Tuesday that their confidence in the markets has been shaken.

Dean Tofteland, a corn and soybean farmer from Minnesota, said when he heard news that MF Global was having problems, he talked to his broker, who told him, "No customer has ever lost a penny in customer segregated accounts."

But three days later his $253,000 account was frozen and he could not adjust his short positions.

Tofteland's positions were transferred to a new broker with only 15 percent of the required collateral, and he was forced to liquidate the hedges, he said. Since then, prices dropped and he lost another $100,000 without having the hedge.

Tofteland said he has not returned to the futures market.

"What they call 'unlawful comingling' on Wall Street is called 'stealing' back on Main Street," he told lawmakers.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper, Aruna Viswanatha and Christopher Doering; Writing by Karey Wutkowski; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)


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