Oil trader controversially pardoned by Clinton




18-12-1934 - 26-6-2013

Marc Rich, a shrewd, swashbuckling oil trader who became a fugitive from the law after being indicted on a charge of widespread tax evasion, illegally dealing with Iran and other crimes, and who was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton during his last hours in office in 2001, setting off a whirlwind of criticism, has died in Lucerne, Switzerland. He was 78.

Rich fled the Holocaust with his parents, and rose to be one of history's most successful commodity traders, cornering the market for aluminum, silver and zinc, and helping create a spot market for oil outside the control of the international petroleum giants. Nicknamed "El Matador" for his steel nerves and razor-sharp acumen, he pushed legal limits and in the early 1980s was indicted in 1983 on 65 criminal counts that included tax fraud and trading with Iran when it was holding US hostages.

He paid the US government about $US200 million in civil penalties but fled to Switzerland to escape criminal prosecution. The IRS offered a $500,000 reward for his capture, and the FBI put him on its most-wanted list along with Osama bin Laden. Even as he remained the world's biggest trader of metals and minerals and lived in opulence, Rich became best known as the world's most famous fugitive.

Then, on January 20, 2001, Clinton included Rich's name on his list of pardons. It immediately became the most debated presidential pardon since President Gerald Ford pardoned

Richard Nixon in 1974, and speculation about Clinton's motivation was rampant.

It was soon learned that Rich's former wife, Denise Rich, had made large donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton library, and that top Israeli officials, including prime minister Ehud Barak, had lobbied Clinton for the pardon. Rabbi Irving Greenberg, the board chairman of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, had also pressed Rich's case, using official Holocaust Memorial stationery. So did King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

Eric H. Holder junior, then the deputy attorney general and now the attorney general, advised the White House that he was "neutral leaning favourable" to the pardon. Only weeks later, Holder said he regretted the recommendation.

Clinton later quoted respected tax experts who concluded that no crime was committed and that the tax-reporting tactics of Rich and his corporation were reasonable.

Rich never returned to the United States, nor did US agents succeed in several attempts to kidnap him. Forbes magazine estimated his worth at $2.5 billion.

Marcell David Reich was born on December 18, 1934, in Antwerp, Belgium, where his father eked out a living by peddling factory discards door to door. In the early 1940s, the family migrated to the US, settling in Kansas City, Missouri, where they opened a jewellery store. They moved to New York in 1950.

Rich began his career as a metals trader in the early 1970s and gained prominence during the 1973-74 oil crisis when he circumvented the Arab oil embargo to sell oil to US companies in desperate need of supplies at increasingly high prices.

He continued to buy oil from Iran after the country's 1979 Islamic revolution despite US sanctions against the country, and remained unapologetic about his activities.

His clients also included the apartheid regime of South Africa and the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. From 1973, Rich was similarly one of Israel's most important oil suppliers for more than 20 years. By the end of his life, he held Israeli, Spanish and Belgian citizenship.

Rich is survived by his two daughters.

Want access to our latest research and new buy ideas?

Start a free 15 day trial and gain access to our research, recommendations and market-beating model portfolios.

Sign up for free

Join the Conversation...

There are comments posted so far.

If you'd like to join this conversation, please login or sign up here

Related Articles