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

Marc Rich, left, and author Daniel Amman pose on Dec. 11, 2008. (Source: Bloomberg) Marc Rich, left, and author Daniel Amman pose on Dec. 11, 2008. (Source: Bloomberg)

Marc Rich, the commodities trader who fled the U.S. to avoid federal indictments during the 1980s before President Bill Clinton pardoned him two decades later, has died. He was 78.

The businessman with a taste for flamboyant neckties and Cuban cigars was celebrated for inventing the spot-oil market and later became one of the most wanted white-collar fugitives in American history for 17 years. After leaving the U.S., he founded a commodities trading company that became the forerunner of today’s Glencore Xstrata Plc.

Rich died in a hospital near his home in Switzerland early today, spokesman Christian Koenig said by telephone.

Rich fled to Switzerland hours before being indicted in 1983 on more than 50 counts of wire fraud, racketeering, trading with Iran during an embargo, and evading more than $48 million in U.S. income taxes. The charges stemmed from a multimillion- dollar chain of U.S. crude oil deals that roiled the global petroleum industry in the early 1980s.

On the last day of his presidency in January 2001, Clinton pardoned Rich, who repeatedly maintained his innocence.

“We bought the oil, we handled the transport and we sold it,” Rich said of his Iran dealings during an interview for the 2009 book “The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich” by Daniel Ammann. “They couldn’t do it themselves, so we were able to do it.”

Commodities Empire

Rich ran a multibillion-dollar empire that stretched from Russian nickel mines through Malaysian tin deposits and into trading rooms in London, Hong Kong and New York. He owned a fleet of oil tankers, counted former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and opera tenor Placido Domingo as friends, lived in a $9.5 million home on Spain’s Costa Brava coast and even co-owned 20th Century Fox studios. He donated generously to charities and museums in Switzerland and Israel, and helped bankroll the Jamaican Olympic team and Zurich Opera.

Rich co-founded commodities company Marc Rich & Co. in 1974, which was renamed Glencore International AG 20 years later when he sold his 51 percent stake. Rich’s firm was where Ivan Glasenberg, who was part of the $1.2 billion management buyout and is now chief executive officer of Glencore Xstrata, learned the commodities trade.

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