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Corzine points to PwC role ahead of MF Global collapse

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine on Friday resisted accepting blame for the October 2011 collapse of his brokerage MF Global Holdings Ltd [MGHL.UL], repeatedly stressing his reliance on judgments by the auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP [PWC.UL].

Corzine was testifying for a second day for MF Global's bankruptcy administrator in federal court in Manhattan in its $3 billion malpractice case against PwC.

Under cross-examination from PwC's lawyer, Corzine rejected suggestions that the collapse stemmed not from PwC's negligence, but from MF Global's own business decisions.

These included Corzine's $6.3 billion wager on sovereign debt from five European countries, which spooked nervous markets after a recent near-shutdown of the U.S. government.

It also included a delay in Corzine's plan to transform MF Global into a full-service broker-dealer that led to a large, surprise tax loss for the futures and commodities brokerage.

"I relied on my team, and on the advice they were receiving and I was receiving, from our outside public accountants," Corzine said.

While never blaming PwC directly, Corzine had testified on Thursday that he trusted PwC because of its strong reputation, and had no reason to believe MF Global's accounting was wrong.

He said PwC's decision to change its advice on accounting for "deferred tax assets," and MF Global's decision to reveal more than PwC had required about the European debt to calm jittery markets, prompted "confusion" and a "loss of confidence and trust."

PwC's lawyer James Cusick on Friday tried to show through emails and other evidence that the auditor was not at fault, including for the European debt financed through "repurchase-to-maturity" transactions.

"They didn't advise you on whether to embark on this Euro RTM strategy?" Cusick asked.

"They did not," Corzine replied.

"These were all business decisions, that belonged to yourself, your management team and your board of directors?"

"Correct."

Cusick got Corzine to agree that volatile capital markets and some other concerns flagged in a Moody's Investors Service downgrade of MF Global a week before the bankruptcy were, in the lawyer's words, "not PricewaterhouseCoopers' fault."

Corzine has been cooperating with the administrator, and testified that in his five or six recent meetings with its lawyers it became "pretty clear the types of themes" to be discussed at trial, including "trust and confidence."

On Monday, Corzine is expected to face more questions from Cusick, followed by questions from the administrator's lawyer, Stephen Sorensen.

Corzine, 70, has kept a low profile since testifying in December 2011 before Congress about MF Global.

In January, he agreed to a $5 million fine to settle a U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission lawsuit over MF Global, without admitting wrongdoing.

PwC in 2015 settled with MF Global investors for $65 million, and denied wrongdoing.

The expected five-week trial began on Tuesday.

The case is MF Global Holdings Ltd as Plan Administrator v PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-02197.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

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