Marc Rich, fugitive commodities trader in 1980s, dies at 78

‘Great Pioneer’

“We are saddened to hear of the death of Marc,” Glasenberg said today in an e-mailed statement. “He was a friend and one of the great pioneers of the commodities trading industry, founding the company that became Glencore. Our deepest sympathies and condolences are with his family at this time.”

Rich’s exact fortune was a mystery, though his assets were estimated at more than $1.5 billion. He was ranked No. 937 in Forbes magazine’s list of world billionaires published in 2010.

Eventually, Rich’s companies pleaded guilty to 35 counts of tax evasion, paying $90 million in fines, leaving the commodities trader known through the industry as “el matador” for his ability to avoid disaster facing a potential prison term of more than 300 years if he ever returned to the U.S.

The pardon drew sharp criticism. Former U.S. Department of Justice officials involved in prosecuting Rich characterized it as “outrageous” and “disgusting.” Rudolph Giuliani, who was a federal prosecutor when Rich fled, said he was shocked by the presidential order and called for a congressional investigation into the matter by the House Government Reform Committee.

On Run

Sandy Weinberg, the U.S. prosecutor who spent years investigating the scope of Rich’s global oil and commodity empire, said “the act of trading with the enemy is so egregious in itself, and indicative of the kind of attitude Rich and his companies had in relation to being good citizens of the U.S.”

Rich, who held U.S., Spanish and Israeli citizenship at various times, spent about two decades dodging a team of U.S. marshals and international executives who operated under the codename Otford Project. The group was tasked with bringing Rich back to the U.S.

At the same time, the U.S. government continued to conduct business with Rich and his companies. In 1985, congressional investigators discovered that Rich’s Swiss-based grain operation, Richco, had racked up almost $100 million in sales through an Agriculture Department subsidy program designed to help foreign nations purchase U.S. wheat and barley.

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