Federal regulators have discovered that hundreds of millions of dollars in customer money have gone missing from MF Global in recent days, prompting an investigation into the company’s operations as it filed for bankruptcy on Monday, according to several people briefed on the matter.
The revelation of the missing money scuttled an 11th hour deal for MF Global to sell a major part of itself to a rival brokerage firm. MF Global, the powerhouse commodities brokerage run by Jon S. Corzine, had staked its survival on completing the deal.
Now, the investigation threatens to tarnish the reputation of Mr. Corzine, the former New Jersey Governor and Goldman Sachs chief who oversaw MF Global’s demise, making it the first American victim of Europe’s debt crisis.
What began as nearly $1 billion missing had dropped to less than $700 million by late Monday. It is unclear where the money went, and some money is expected to trickle in over the coming days as the firm sorts through the bankruptcy process, the people said.
But regulators are examining whether MF Global diverted some customer money to support its own trades as the firm teetered on the brink of collapse. If that was the case, it could violate a fundamental tenet of Wall Street regulation: Customers’ money must be kept separate from company money.
Such a finding would move the discussion from sloppy internal controls at MF Global to something more troubling. While the investigation is in its early days, it raises the specter that regulators could sanction the firm or the employees responsible.
MF Global and Mr. Corzine have not been accused of any wrongdoing.