The former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, has for the first time outlined his reasons for pardoning the billionaire commodity trader, Marc Rich, who has been living in exile in Switzerland for more than 15 years.
"I was in favour of the pardon only if Mr Rich abandoned his defence in the face of a civil trial," Clinton told reporters. "If he presents himself, the US government can then proceed normally with the case."
Rich has so far made no comment on the controversial pardon, which was issued in the final hours of Clinton's presidency in January.
Belgian-born Rich fled the US in 1983 just before he was indicted for tax evasion of more than $48 million (SFr77.28 million), fraud and for circumventing US oil price restrictions.
According to the US Department of Justice, Rich, aged 66, conspired in April 1980 with the Iranian government to purchase more than six million barrels of oil, in violation of the trade embargo imposed by the US.
Rich and his partner, Pincus (Pinky) Green, who was also pardoned by Clinton, were once among the world's leading commodity traders. Their companies pleaded guilty in 1984 to evading millions of dollars in taxes by hiding profits on crude oil trading.
Both men avoided prosecution by staying in Switzerland, which refused to extradite them to the US.
Clinton said that the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, had called him "on more than one occasion" to plead for a pardon.
Clinton's decision has been criticised by some American politicians, who claim he was motivated in part by donations given to the Democrats by Rich's former wife, Denise.
"But there was nothing political about this affair," Clinton stressed. "Denise Rich is a good woman who has never done anything wrong. She has supported us over the years," Clinton added.
The new US president, George W Bush, has said he is aware of Clinton's decision, but he does not plan to contest the affair.
swissinfo with agencies