Controversial billionaire commodities trader Marc Rich has passed away today at the age of 78 at a hospital near his home in Switzerland.
Rich — who fled the U.S. in 1983 before being indicted for wire fraud and tax evasion — pioneered the spot oil market, amassing a fortune by evading international rules and embargoes.
He founded the company that would later become Glencore Xstrata, but he became truly infamous for trading with with apartheid-era South Africa, Iran, Cuba, and the Pinochet regime in Chile. The honey badger of 1970s commodities trading, Marc Rich just didn’t care.
In a highly controversial move, President Clinton pardoned Rich on his last day in office in 2001.
To some, Rich was an all-star commodities trailblazer. To others, a greedy, exiled white-collar criminal.
Worth an estimated $2.5 billion, Rich was no doubt, well, rich. And he certainly had a crazy life.
Rich was born in Belgium and was a Holocaust survivor. Born to Jewish parents, Rich and his family fled Belgium in 1941.
Rich spent the rest of his childhood in the U.S. As a young man, he dropped out of NYU to start trading commodities at Phillip Brothers.
He predicted the 1973 oil embargo. He bought up crude oil before the price hike, and sold on demand when the embargo was enacted. Rich left Phillip Brothers and opened a new commodities trading shop in Switzerland called Marc Rich + Co AG.
Rich ignored UN rules on apartheid South Africa and imported tons of Iranian oil into the country. He made a boatload of cash.
He also traded with Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, violating a U.S. embargo. He was charged with failing to pay U.S. taxes on the profits.
The law was after his ill-gotten gains, and Rich was charged with 51 counts of tax fraud and $48 million in tax evasion. U.S. Federal Prosecutor Rudy Giuliani was on the case. The sentences would have gotten Rich 300 years in prison.
But he had already fled to the safety of Switzerland, landing himself on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. His company ended up settling for $171 million in fines, but Rich faced individual charges. Since tax evasion isn't a crime in Switzerland, Rich evaded U.S. attempts at extradition.
His Swiss mansion was decked out with Picassos. He also had a villa in St. Moritz and a $10 million home on the Spanish coast.
Rich was eventually forced out of his own company when he nearly bankrupted the venture through zinc trades. The company renamed itself Glencore.
Rich became a big time philanthropist and donated around $150 million to institutions in Israel, where he will be buried.
Rich divorced his wife Denise, a thrice-Grammy nominated songwriter and friend of the Clintons, in 1996. But Denise, who has raised millions for Democratic politicians, helped secure Rich's pardon.
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