Friday, October 16, 2009
That's Rich Marc Rich Pardoned
Few recognised the avuncular American chuckling with Naomi Campbell at one of the summer's most spectacular parties in St Tropez. Tanned, sporting an unbuttoned cerise silk shirt, he seemed perfectly at ease among the guests aboard the motor yacht Lady Joy where Ivana Trump, Joan Collins and 500 or so others partied to a Moulin Rouge theme. Some may have wondered why certain guests seemed to hold the affable American in such awe. He certainly seemed to be someone rather special - but who was he?
They could be forgiven for not knowing. This was Marc Rich, one of the world's most secretive billionaires. Despite a vast business empire and a fortune that places him in the front rank of the super-rich, he has led his life away from public view. Screened by bodyguards and a wall of corporate discretion, he has been barely visible to the world at large. Until now.
Rich, in his early seventies, has emerged from the shadows, quitting his fortress-like home above Lake Lucerne in Switzerland to spend a summer in the jet-set haunts of the Mediterranean. After years of enforced exile from his home in America, the elusive Rich - who once dodged US marshals sent to arrest him - has suddenly gone very public.
A few nights ago, the Evening Standard has learned, he squired Carmen "Tita" Cervera, Baroness Thyssen, to a party in Marbella, thrown by the Swiss jewellery company, Chopard. Like the St Tropez party, it was another highly visible event, with Israeli model Bar Rafaeli (sans boyfriend Leonardo DiCaprio) performing eye-catching moves on the dance-floor.
Rich may be a little old for that, but in his own way he is no less a sensation. Witness the allegation that he succeeded in buying a presidential pardon on the very day Bill Clinton left office. The charge - which both he and President Clinton reject utterly - turns on a gift of several hundred thousand dollars made by Rich's former wife, Denise.
Denise Rich, a woman of rare glamour and vivacity, is at the heart of this story. Her role in her former husband's life - even after their divorce - has been crucial. Intriguingly, it was at her party, aboard the Lady Joy three weeks ago that the world got the first glimpse it has had of Marc Rich for quite some time.
His house, in Meggen, Switzerland, is his stronghold. Surrounded by an art collection said to have few equals - Picasso, Van Gogh and Miró are his favourites - he has, for nearly a quarter of a century, remained out of sight.
The rambling mansion set behind high walls is rumoured to have a network of secret tunnels and Rich employs an impressive corps of security people. They accompany him on his forays to Zug, the Alpine town where a population of 24,000 residents shares space with the offices of 10,000 registered companies. Rich has offices here, in a coloured glass tower that lends Zug a touch of downtown Dallas. Unlike the Texas oil town, however, Zug is noted for its hushed discretion. Some would say secrecy.
RICH set up here in 1975 with his long-term business partner Pincus "Pinky" Green. Rich was the dealmaker with a phenomenal knowledge of the commodities market. Green was the logistics expert who was so good at making sure the ships arrived on time he was nicknamed The Admiral.
Together, they dealt in anything the industrialised world needed, especially metal and oil. Rich made first-class contacts with the Shah of Iran's export operation and began buying huge quantities of oil. By 1976 his pre-tax profits were $367 million. By selling wherever he could get the best price, Rich virtually created the world's spot market in oil. When the Shah was deposed, Rich carried on trading with the mullahs. This was when his problems began.
Investigators in the United States claimed Rich's company was dealing with Iran during the US hostage crisis, when the country was considered an international pariah. They also believed he was dealing with other rogue states, including North Korea and Colonel Gaddafi's Libya.
In 1983 US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, a future mayor of New York, drew up an indictment charging Rich with illegal oil trading and tax evasion. Before he could be arrested, Rich left his $10 million apartment on Park Avenue and boarded his private jet, bound for Europe. He already had a base in Zug and Switzerland was to become his home and centre of operations for the next 25 years.
It was not a wholly unpleasant exile. Rich was born in Antwerp and was taken to the United States at the age of 12 when his parents escaped the Nazis. He was already fluent in French and had no difficulty with German.
His beautiful wife Denise, with whom he had three daughters, embraced their new life in Europe. She is a highly successful songwriter and wealthy in her own right. While Rich is described as manipulative and occasionally ruthless, Denise is said to have an endearing naïveté.
"She has a childlike demeanour," said Patti LaBelle, a friend and one of a number of artists who have had hits with Denise's songs. In Switzerland, Denise learned languages, delighted in the cultural opportunities of Europe's great cities and took a deep interest in the family collection.
Then she noticed her husband was taking an interest in a statuesque blonde called Gisela Rossi, a widow who was almost 20 years younger than him.
Rich and Gisela would spend long hours together on the ski slopes - he is an expert skier and formidable tennis player - and 10 years after beginning her new life in Switzerland, Denise saw it crumbling around her. She and Rich were divorced amid sulphurous acrimony. Denise moved back to New York with her three daughters andmade her home in a 28-room, three-floor apartment on Fifth Avenue with a view of Central Park. She also has a large house in The Hamptons and gossip columnists refer to the 160ft Lady Joy as her yacht.
There was a report that she received $300 million in her divorce settlement. Another suggested she got $200 million. Neither has been confirmed. Whatever the figure, it was not enough for her to forgive Rich, at least for a while.
As Denise consolidated her reputation as one of New York's leading socialites - her St Tropez party became an annual affair and a very hot ticket - she was approached by a Washington lawyer called Jack Quinn.
Quinn had worked for the Clintons and had been engaged by Marc Rich's people, it was later revealed, to try to secure Rich a presidential pardon. It was 2000 and Bill Clinton was due to leave office the following January. Quinn asked Denise if she would help put Rich's case to the Clintons.
According to sources in Washington, Denise refused three times. Why should she help her ex-husband? She loathed him. Then she agreed. It is now generally accepted that she approached Hillary Clinton through her close friend Beth Dozoretz, a hugely wealthy socialite who had given more than £1 million to the Democrats. Bill Clinton was godfather to Beth's daughter. Denise implored the president to pardon her husband. She also sent a cheque for $450,000 to his legacy project, the Clinton Library.
In January 2001, a few hours before leaving the White House, Clinton issued the pardon. He later justified his decision, saying he was concerned about the "criminalisation" of charges against Rich and his partner Green, suggesting the government might do better to pursue its claims in the civil courts. His commentary can be found, in full, on Marc Rich's company website.
Clinton's denial that there had been any quid pro quo did nothing to quell talk of a scandal. A Senate inquiry was launched but when Denise and her friend Beth Dozoretz took the Fifth Amendment - which shields them from giving evidence that might incriminate them - it didn't go very far.
For many fascinated by the affair, the most interesting question was not whether Denise had bought her former husband a pardon, but why? It was well known that she despised him after the break-up of their marriage. There were suggestions that he made a significant improvement to her divorce settlement. Then another explanation emerged, from Denise herself.
Despite a lifelong practice of keeping the press at arm's length, she gave an interview to Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth. When Orth was asked on television whether the presidential pardon had been a financial deal, Denise, she said, had been guided by her late daughter Gabriella, who died of leukaemia in 1996, aged 27.
"She's a New Age devotee," Orth said. "She thinks that her daughter is up in heaven as an angel speaking to her directly. That's how she gets the music lyrics for the songs that she writes. She absolutely denied any sort of quid pro quo. She doesn't need any more money from Marc. She has plenty of her own, which is true."
ASKED why she thought Clinton granted the pardon, Orth replied: "You know, he was going to do it for Denise, who was his dear friend, who had this fabulous apartment where they could have all these parties and fund-raisers for himself and Hillary in their new home state of New York.
"Plus, she had really come through for them so much. She had given money and furniture to their house in Chappaqua. There were a number of reasons."
Murmurings on Capitol Hill suggested Rich's powerful Israeli friends also gave their weight to the argument for a pardon. He has been a major donor to Israeli and Jewish charities for years. The internet is abuzz with stories - impossible to prove - that he was also an unpaid agent for Mossad, the Israeli secret service. Certainly, with his contacts in the Middle East and Russia he could have been very useful if he had wanted to be.
Whatever the reality, it was acknowledged that former prime minister Ehud Barak was among powerful figures who asked Clinton to grant the pardon.
It did not presage a triumphant return to America, however. Rich remained in Switzerland, largely unseen, selling off parts of his business and concentrating more and more on his charitable foundations. And he remained reconciled to Denise. She invited him to her St Tropez party and he seemed very much tp enjoy it. After long years in the fastness of his Lake Lucerne eyrie, he would, wouldn't he?
Feb. 12, 2001 - For nearly two decades, Marc Rich has lived a double life. One was a billionaire’s sumptuous world of mansions, ski villas and high finance; the other, the uneasy life of a fugitive. Since he fled the United States in 1983, the 66-year-old Rich has been a prime target of U.S. law enforcement, a regular fixture of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.
When President Clinton signed his name to pardon Rich on Jan. 20, it became one of the most controversial pardons since Gerald Ford absolved the disgraced Richard Nixon in the aftermath of Watergate.
Inauguration Day 2001 in Washington turned out to be liberation day for the fugitive financier still hiding out in Switzerland.
Though hiding out may be a bit of a stretch.
Rich’s wealth has been subject of speculation for years. His new company reportedly had revenues of $7 billion last year. He has a Swiss mansion filled with fine art; Picasso is a particular favorite. There is a plush villa on slopes of St. Moritz and a $10 million home in flashy and chic Marbella on the Spanish coast.
For Rich, life on the lam hasn’t exactly been filled with hardship.
That galling fact has been a thorn in the side of federal prosecutors for years.
“His philosophy seems to be, I’m rich and I’m going to be richer, and he seemed to have complete disregard for any legal impediments that might interfere with his increasing wealth,” said Martin Auerbach, one of the young assistant U.S. attorneys who put together the case against Rich in the early 1980s. He is now in his 40s, no longer a federal prosecutor, but — like his colleagues — still vividly recalls the attempt to nail Rich.
‘Biggest tax evasion case in history’
Though Rich’s attorneys apparently persuaded Clinton that Rich’s offenses were not so serious and the case weak, the prosecutors feel differently.
“It was the biggest tax evasion case in United States history,” said New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who at the time was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Well known for his aggressive — some say overzealous pursuit of white collar criminals — Giuliani has been very vocal for 18 years about Rich’s case. He has also been a sharp critic of former first lady Hillary Clinton, and was — until prostate cancer intervened — her Republican opponent in last year’s Senate race.
But tax evasion was just the final piece of the Rich indictment.
Rich was also charged with a complex oil scam that exploited America’s energy crisis in the early ’80s. The 65-count indictment claimed he had secretly bought up millions of barrels of Texas crude oil then under strict price controls and relabeled the oil as decontrolled supplies, ultimately selling it on the open market for huge profits — reportedly $100 million.
And while 52 Americans were held hostage in Iran, Rich’s company allegedly made another fortune by trading with the Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime in violation of a strict American trade embargo.
Rich and his partner were then charged with failing to pay U.S. taxes on the profits.
The formal charges sounded like the case against gangster Al Capone: wire fraud, mail fraud, racketeering, trading with the enemies of the United States, and, of course, tax evasion.
Fled to Switzerland
Rich didn’t wait to find out if the case was solid. He fled to Switzerland just before the indictments came down. A year later, his company plead guilty, settling for $171 million in fines.
But that still meant Rich was liable as an individual for the criminal charges.
So the U.S. authorities began a long manhunt that at times would resemble a spy thriller.
By then, the Belgian-born Rich, who emigrated to America when he was a child, had already begun what was to be a long seduction of his new homeland-of-choice: Switzerland.
“He went to work charming, essentially buying Swiss loyalty ... he really put out the money and the charm,” said Shawn Tully, a reporter for Fortune Magazine who has followed his career.
According to Tully, the normally reclusive Rich did lots of interviews; interviews where the questions were carefully vetted in advance to avoid incriminating information. And he began a remarkable career as a philanthropist in Switzerland, throughout Europe and in Israel.
Rich argued that his company, which had offices in Switzerland, was really Swiss and thus its transactions were legal. In a 1992 interview with “Dateline NBC,” the man who called himself a “business machine” left little doubt that national politics or loyalties would interfere with profits.
“You can’t run a business based on sympathies, otherwise our business would be hampered,” he said.
NBC News tried to contact his attorney for comment on the original case but got no response.
Swiss hampered extradition
It also helped that since tax evasion isn’t a criminal offense in Switzerland, U.S attempts to extradite Rich fell on deaf ears.
But that didn’t mean the hunt was over.
Howard Safir, director of operations for the U.S. Marshals Service, also remembers the attempt to bring the fugitive home.
“He planned his movements very well,” Safir recalled. “We missed him by a few hours in England, by a day or two in Jamaica, and we tried (to get) him in Germany, but he was very good at avoiding us.”
The secret operations, which were legal under U.S. law, were called extraordinary renditions. The idea was to snatch the fugitive and secretly lead him out of the country. Safir said he came close in Switzerland, waiting outside Rich’s mansion, then his office.
But there was a leak; somehow this rendition was flawed.
“The Swiss police found out about it and made it clear to me personally that if we took any action, we were the ones who would be arrested, not Marc Rich,” said Safir.
Rich’s luxurious lifestyle went on undeterred. He told “Dateline” in 1992 that he was a very careful man now.
The billionaire isn’t without his admirers.
In Europe and Israel, his old legal problems with the United States are largely ignored, even ridiculed. Even among those who weigh the offenses more carefully, his generosity and good deeds outweigh the alleged crimes in America. His pardon application included dozens of letters attesting to his philanthropy abroad, which reportedly runs at least into the tens of millions of dollars.
In his interview with “Dateline” nine years ago, Rich, the man who has been described as the the most successful commodities trader of the century and fearless and ruthless in business, appeared content with his new life.
“I certainly like the idea of going back to the United States,” said Rich. “At the same time, I’m managing satisfactorily.” He said it in a soft-spoken way with the blithe assurance of the powerful.
His exile wasn’t without cost though. In 1996, his 27 year-old daughter died of leukemia here in the United States. Her final illness apparently did not tempt him to risk returning to the United States.
But now, the old crimes are absolved. Whether guilty or not, Rich’s exile is over.