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The End Of The Line

So it appears this is the end of the line for Jon Corzine, the disgraced former head of MF Global, the man who essentially brought down the firm with lousy trades on European debt markets, helped cripple the futures industry and tarnished its once iron clad guarantee on customer funds. The firm dipped into customer segregated funds, something Corzine has long denied knowing, and left the collapsed firms’ customers wondering what happened to more than $1 billion of their money.

The CFTC settled its case with Corzine yesterday, as the man, the myth, agreed to a lifetime trading ban from the futures industry but is still free to trade non-CFTC regulated markets. He also will pay a fine of $5 million from his own pocket. That still leaves many to wonder, how does that guy still have $5 million left in his pocket?

This case has taken more than five years to conclude, leading even more to ask the following: what took so long? And why, as head of a publicly traded company, isn’t Corzine behind bars? Somehow, the SEC decided Corzine’s role in the mismanagement of the company was not considered theft from customers, nor that the company misrepresented its risk profile to shareholders. The names Tyco, Worldcom and Enron often come to mind when I think of MF Global. Different cases, yes; same level of negligence or worse in my view.

Is the industry better off today than it was due to improvements in customer protections? Perhaps, but that’s little solace for those customers who were shuttled off to bankruptcy court and had their accounts shifted to other firms, or for MF Global’s employees who lost their jobs. The reputational damage done to the industry is massive. Many firms and regulators have done their best to try to ensure it never happens again.

Trust has been restored in large part since MF Global’s collapse in October 2011. But you rebuild that one day at a time. So long Jon Corzine. May we never see the likes of you again.

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Kharouf is CEO of John J. Lothian & Co. and editor-in-chief of John Lothian News (JLN). He edits the John Lothian Newsletter, MarketsWiki and MarketsReformWiki.