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NEW YORK (
TheStreet)--Civil charges brought Thursday against Jon Corzine apparently indicate he has escaped criminal liability for allowing
MF Global, the company that filed for bankruptcy protection 19 months after he joined it as chairman and CEO, to misuse customer funds to make risky bets on European sovereign debt.
In its civil complaint against Corzine, MF Global and former assistant treasurer Edith O'Brien, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission charges Corzine "either did not act in good faith or knowingly induced" violations of U.S. commodities laws, allowing $1 billion in customer funds to be used for MF Global's proprietary bets.
That either/or language means, in essence, that despite a nearly two-year investigation into MF Global's failure, CFTC investigators, acting in concert with the U.S. Attorneys' Offices for the Southern District of New York and the Northern District of Illinois, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom, failed to find convincing evidence that Corzine willfully stole from MF Global's clients.
While the CFTC is to be applauded for refusing to settle with Corzine and seeking to ban him from the futures industry, the announcement of civil charges is a disappointment to those who would like to see reckless financiers held to account for acting as thought are above the law.
profile of Corzine in Vanity Fair magazine portrayed a workaholic who climbed the Goldman ranks by being in the right place at the right time, advancing because he put in long hours and got lucky on some big trades. That he bought his way into New Jersey politics is one thing but the fact that before blowing up MF Global he was seen as a plausible candidate for Treasury Secretary is a more than a bit scary.
Like so many of his high-powered Wall Street peers, Corzine should be headed to jail. But a political and economic system that so easily permits someone like Corzine to buy his way nearly to the very top of government is not the place we should look for perfection in its regulatory or criminal justice matters. Worse Wall Street actors than Corzine have gotten off more easily, and at this point it's increasingly hard to muster much outrage.
Written by Dan Freed in New York.