Written by Bob English
Ahead of Tuesday’s Senate Banking Committee hearing on MF Global, we present the April 20 installment of Capital Account with Lauren Lyster, featuring futures industry veteran guest, Mark Melin. Ms. Lyster pulls no punches in the opener:
Has the case really gone cold? Or, are those who are in charge of the investigation, the “regulators” and the trustees, simply spraying teflon on every piece of sticky evidence that could lead to criminal prosecutions–and, ultimately–the recovery of stolen customer money?
We wish that MF Global were just a one-off affair–a bad apple, if you will. Unfortunately, it seems more likely to us that this is another milestone in the history of what we see as criminality, which has swept through the financial services industry, like some sort of Medieval Black Plague–the Black Death for capital formation. It seems the only time people are held accountable anymore, is when they commit crimes that affect the super-rich.
Bernie Madoff is a prime example…Madoff is securely behind bars, but Jon “Teflon Don” Corzine is busy ordering carmel-Frappuchinos at the local Starbucks as he goes to shop for office space in New York…bothered only by the low din of discontent emanating from the blogosphere (and shows like this, Capital Account). What a nuiscance we must be to the new God-fellas of Wall Street…
Nuiscance, indeed, to which we hope we are part. Here is a link to the entire episode, in which Ms. Lyster and Mr. Melin cover the following salient points, all pointing to a criminal intent to commit fraud, as well as the role of regulators and investigators:
Why was the MF Global back office cleared out with three top personnel allowed to leave, just as the firm was exeriencing its most serious liquidity (ahem solvency) crisis in its soon-to-be-terminated existence?
Why were C-level executives, far from being sequestered by investigators and being placed in an information silo, allowed to run the company for six weeks (prior to Mr. Freeh being installed as Trustee of the Holdings company)?
Why did Lois Freeh wait until early March to have MF Global Holdings USA declare bankruptcy, the very entity that retained the few remaining executives and employees and may have been cash-rich?
Why did Federal criminal investigators fail to so much as question Mr. Corzine nearly six months after the crime?
Why were large counterparties paid with wire transfers, when requests from lowly customers for wires were converted to checks (which ultimately bounced)? “Sloppy is when you don’t do things consistently. Sending all checks to customers and all wires to counterparties–that’s consistent.” See here for details published by John Roe of the Commodity Customer Coalition.
Why were the final days characterized as so “chaotic” when a properly programmed iPhone or Android smart phone (sorry, RIMM) should have been able to handle what amounts to maybe a few dozen megabytes of transfer instructions?
Just what were the details surrounding the successful lobbying effort by top level MF Global execs that effectively postponed reforms on rules that would limit use of customer funds (coincidentally, or not perhaps, just ahead of a $325 million bond offering by MF Global)? [For more details, see our prior piece from this week, which includes exclusive CFTC emails on the issue.]
Even Chuck Grassley, the sponsor of the now-widely criticized 2005 bankruptcy reform act, has stated, “The bankruptcy laws are written to ensure that company executives who were involved in the demise of a company because of fraud or mismanagement shouldn’t be eligible for bonuses,” Mr. Grassley said.
More broadly, MF Global customers have an absolute right to clawback of questionable margin payments and asset transfers from the broker unit that occurred in the weeks leading up to the firm’s demise because there was a clear pattern of intent to deceive investors and customers alike–from manipulating regulators and the regulatory process to changing business practices in the final wee–all of which ensured that customers would be last in line for the remaining morsels of the MF Global carcass. (And, as we have pointed out since early November, 2011, the very nature of the Corzine Trade from Day One was such that all the risk was put in the customer brokerage house, while profits were diverted to an offshore business unit).
“Fraud” is the operative word here. There is no dispute that the Commodity Exchange Act (sic, the law) has been broken, but until fraud is investigated, customers are at the mercy of a very fuzzy and opaque legal process.
It’s time for Congress to put pressure on those in charge of this investigation and oversight to break their own glass of silence and dare them to utter the magic “F” word.
Bob English is the author of this article, the opinions expressed are entirely his own. View his work at: