* FINRA head says he was not aware of waiver request
* Waivers common when execs return from public service
* Regulator granted more than 1,500 exam waivers in 2011
By Suzanne Barlyn
NEW YORK, Nov 14 (Reuters) - A top U.S. regulator said he is "not apologetic at all" about granting a waiver that allowed former MF Global Inc. CEO Jon Corzine to head the firm without taking two licensing exams that are typically required.
Corzine received "absolutely no favoritism" from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Richard Ketchum, FINRA's chairman and chief executive, said on Monday at the sidelines of an industry conference.
Ketchum said he was never aware that Corzine applied for a waiver. The application never came to his attention because it was treated the same as any other applicant, he said.
Corzine, the former head of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., returned to Wall Street in 2010 as MF Global's chief executive after a hiatus while serving for five years as Democratic U.S. senator for New Jersey, until he was elected governor of New Jersey in 2005. He lost his bid for a second term after being defeated by Republican Chris Christie in 2009.
MF Global collapsed Oct. 31 after risky trades on European debt, prompting Corzine's resignation. It faces a shortfall of roughly $600 million in customer funds.
FINRA granted Corzine waivers for two basic licensing exams that cover general securities principles and management issues. But it required Corzine to take a futures licensing exam, a FINRA spokeswoman confirmed.
The regulator, in granting Corzine the waivers, went through "exactly the same analysis" that it would have applied to any experienced person returning to Wall Street after a stint in public service, including at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Treasury Department, Ketchum said.
Waivers are also often requested by management professionals who have larger responsibilities within a global financial services firm and who take on a role at the broker-dealer, he said.
FINRA approved 1,556 exam waivers to date in 2011, according to a spokeswoman.