Collapsed futures broker attracts rescuers

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GHF, an American futures broker, has offered to take over Griffin Trading Company, the London branch of the Chicago futures broker which filed for bankruptcy in the US on Wednesday night after pounds 6.25m of losses were incurred by John Park, a futures dealer for whom it acted as broker.

Interest has also been expressed by GNI, the commodities broker, and MeesPierson, the Dutch bank which handled clearing through its Frankfurt office for Mr Park's German bond futures dealings.

GHF has offered to pay the 80 locals who have lost money as a result of Griffin's collapse 50p in the pound, which would enable the vast majority of them to resume trading. The locals, or independent traders, had sums ranging between pounds 15,000 and pounds 1m deposited in a segregated account, but they have been unable to access their funds because they have been seized by MeesPierson.

Some are facing personal ruin and are appalled at the failure of the existing regulations to prevent their funds being used to cover liabilities which they have not incurred.

"There is no way we can earn a living. There are guys of 35 with kiddies whose houses are going to be repossessed," said one trader who has been hit by Griffin's collapse. "People are talking about suicide. We understand that what is allowed in London would never be allowed in any other financial centre."

The Financial Services Authority was yesterday seeking to question Mr Park in an attempt to get to the bottom of why he continued buying German bund futures beyond the limits of what he had collateral to fund, and why he chose to funnel his deals through more than one broker. To use the same collateral to back more than one deal would be illegal.

The Korean-born Mr Park, who operated out of Griffin's City of London offices, was not returning calls either to his office or to his residence in Eaton Place, in Knightsbridge, west London.

Questions are being asked about how Griffin, a respected Chicago broker with three generations behind it, could have gone down for an amount as relatively trifling as pounds 6.25m. The firm is owned by Roger and Tex Griffin, both wealthy individuals in their own right. An earlier member of the firm was a member of the board at the Chicago Board of Trade.

According to one account, the firm had $100m in assets. One theory circulating in the City yesterday was that the reserves had been run down ahead of the year end in order to minimise potential tax liabilities.

Last week, just before it applied to withdraw its membership of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Griffin transferred all its trading positions to another firm, Kotke Associates LLC "for book-keeping purposes".

Traders familiar with the firm said yesterday that Roger Griffin had been badly hit by the suicide of his son last year and may not have been fully focussed on the business.

Griffin sold three of its four seats on the CBOT recently.

There has been criticism of the management of the London operation, which was unaware of the extent of Mr Park's German futures market dealings until it was too late.

One market source described the firm as having been "a shambles" since the departure last year of Peggy Ogurek, who ran the office but decided to return to the US for personal reasons.

Investigators from the FSA will be keen to know how Mr Park was able to trade beyond his financial resources without the knowledge of his prime broker.

After being called in by Griffin on 22 December, Liffe, the London International Futures and Options Exchange, sought to put together a lifeboat to take on Griffin's loss-making positions, as in the last similar crisis when Drexel, the American broker linked to Michael Milken, the junk bond king, collapsed.

The Financial Services Authority may now have to look again at the rules governing segregated accounts in the light of the Griffin Affair. The client money held by Griffin was put in a single "omnibus" account, which meant that money deposited by one client could readily be used to cover margin calls incurred by another client.

An FSA spokeswoman said: "This is the first time we are aware of any problems arising from the existence of omnibus accounts. But rules are not set in stone."