The $593 million shortfall in client money at MF Global Holdings Ltd., the broker that filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31, appears to result from a "massive hide- and-seek ploy," Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said today.

The agency took the rare step of publicly announcing its investigation, which began on Oct. 31, saying it was in the public interest to confirm the enforcement action. Jill E. Sommers was named as the senior commissioner during the probe, after Gary Gensler, the agency's chairman, recused himself.

"This isn't just a lost and found inquiry; it's a full-on effort to get to the bottom of what appears to be a massive hide-and-seek ploy," Chilton, a Democrat, said in an e-mail.

"It's a distinct possibility, some would say probability, that somebody has done something with the money, and that it's not going to be 'all of a sudden discovered' with an innocent explanation," Chilton said. "If that's the case, it's patently illegal. I don't know yet. Our investigation will uncover that, and we're aggressively pursuing this."

Gensler recused himself from the investigation because of his history with Jon S. Corzine, the former head of MF Global. Gensler worked with Corzine at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and during his time as a Senate aide, while Corzine represented New Jersey as a U.S. senator.

'Get to the Bottom'

"I have complete confidence in the dedicated men and women in enforcement to carry out the necessary investigation to get to the bottom of what happened," Sommers, a Republican, said in a statement.

The probe of MF Global's cash movements is being conducted by the U.S. Justice Department, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the bankruptcy trustee's staff in cooperation with the Securities Investor Protection Corp., James W. Giddens, the trustee, said on his website.

The CFTC also began a review of futures brokers to determine if client funds are properly segregated. The initial review will include between 10 and 12 futures brokers and the CFTC hasn't set a deadline for the review, a person familiar with the review said.

Diana DeSocio, a spokeswoman for MF Global, didn't respond to requests for comment. Steven Goldberg, a spokesman for Corzine in New York, said he had no immediate comment.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.