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Corzine says he's sorry over collapse of MF Global broker

Politicians express incredulity at account of how $1.2bn of customer funds went missing

Jon Corzine apologised to the employees and clients of MF Global at a dramatic Congressional hearing into the collapse of the historic brokerage firm he ran until last month, but he told politicians that, no, he did not know the whereabouts of a missing $1.2bn of customer funds.

Despite a criminal investigation into the events leading up to MF Global's bankruptcy on 31 October, Mr Corzine decided not to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to avoid answering potentially incriminating questions, but he said he had many of the same queries over what happened to supposedly ring-fenced customer accounts in the chaotic last days of the firm's life.

"My involvement in the firm's clearing, settlement and payment mechanisms, and accounting was limited," he said.

Many on Wall Street were glued to the testimony, the first chance to see the former industry titan in public since MF Global went under and a chance to get clues on two hot topics of discussion in the industry: will the firm's brokerage customers get all their money back, and might Jon Corzine end up in jail?

On the second question, a crucial exchange occurred early on in the testimony, when Mr Corzine was asked if he had authorised the illegal transfer of customer money in a desperate attempt to prop up the rest of the firm. Instead he answered: "I never intended to break any rules. I never intended to direct or have segregated funds moved."

Mr Corzine served in Congress for six years at the start of the last decade, after having been ousted as chief executive of Goldman Sachs, and extended his political career by becoming Governor of New Jersey. The MF Global debacle has robbed him of his status as a Democratic party grandee.

"Senator? Governor? I never know what to call you," one member of the House Agriculture committee said at yesterday's hearing – to which Mr Corzine replied grimly, "A lot of people have bad names."

Mr Corzine returned to Wall Street in 2010 at the helm of MF Global with the ambition of transforming the sleepy derivatives broker into a trading powerhouse like his old firm.

Part of the plan was to place bigger bets with MF Global's own money, but when it was revealed that those bets included $6.4bn of exposure to European sovereign debt, customers and trading partners took fright. In the subsequent "run on the bank", Mr Corzine and his lieutenants worked furiously to sell the firm, but a sale collapsed at the last minute when bankers discovered hundreds of millions of dollars was missing from what should have been ring-fenced customer accounts. It was a discovery that left him "stunned", he said.

"I simply do not know where the money is, or why the accounts have not been reconciled to date," Mr Corzine said, in a 21-page statement ahead of his testimony. "I do not know which accounts are unreconciled or whether the unreconciled accounts were or were not subject to the segregation rules. Moreover, there were an extraordinary number of transactions during MF Global's last few days, and I do not know, for example, whether there were operational errors at MF Global or elsewhere, or whether banks and counterparties have held onto funds that should rightfully have been returned to MF Global."