| NEW YORK, March 6
NEW YORK, March 6 Publicity over the recent
Academy Awards and Wall Street hung over a Manhattan courtroom
on Monday as lawyers struggled to find jurors to decide whether
PricewaterhouseCoopers helped cause the collapse of MF Global
Holdings Ltd, a commodity brokerage once headed by former New
Jersey Governor Jon Corzine.
MF Global's bankruptcy plan administrator is seeking
roughly $3 billion in damages, accusing PwC of negligence for
approving an accounting method that let Corzine, also former
Goldman Sachs co-chairman, make a huge, ill-fated wager
on European sovereign debt.
PwC plans to argue that its accounting advice was
reasonable, and that decisions by Corzine and others at MF
Global led to the company's October 2011 bankruptcy.
Jury selection began eight days after the Academy Awards
fiasco when a PwC accountant mistakenly handed over the wrong
envelope for Best Picture award to the actor Warren Beatty, who
then wrongly said that "La La Land" rather than "Moonlight" won
the Oscar. PwC later apologized.
Before prospective jurors arrived, U.S. District Judge
Victor Marrero admonished lawyers to refrain from mentioning the
"I gave no authority to make any reference, direct or
indirect, to any Hollywood production," he said.
Later, Marrero dismissed at least four prospective jurors
after asking if they had heard about PwC.
The judge and lawyers also questioned many prospective
jurors behind closed doors about what they knew about Corzine,
who is expected to testify during the roughly five-week trial.
Corzine, a former U.S. senator, has never been accused of
fraud or intentional misconduct related to MF Global.
The MF Global administrator is expected to argue that
investors were spooked by Corzine's $6.3 billion bet on European
sovereign debt, which together with a large quarterly loss,
credit rating downgrades and margin calls helped spur the
brokerage's rapid descent into Chapter 11.
MF Global's collapse sparked federal probes, after it
emerged that $1.6 billion of customer funds had gone missing and
the company had improperly used customer money to shore up
liquidity. The money was later recovered.
The firm in April 2015 reached a $65 million settlement with
former MF Global shareholders and bondholders but denied
Corzine agreed in January to pay a $5 million civil fine to
settle a U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission lawsuit.
(Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Noeleen
Walder and Cynthia Osterman)