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Clinton pardons indicted trader who sought refuge in Switzerland

Marc Rich can now return to the United States

(Keystone Archive)

A billionaire commodity trader Marc Rich, who has been living in exile in Switzerland for more than 15 years, has been pardoned by the former United States president, Bill Clinton.

Rich has so far made no comment on the controversial pardon, which was announced at the weekend.

Belgian-born Rich fled the United States in 1983 just before he was indicted for tax evasion of more than $48 million (SFr77.28 million) 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.

Rich's firm, Mark Rich International, agreed to pay a fine of $200 million dollars but Rich has not been able to return to the US because the Justice Department refused to lift the criminal charges against both him and Green.

Rich, who lives in Meggen, canton Lucerne, remains active in commodity trading in the neighbouring canton of Zug but his fortune is said to be a fraction of what it was.

He set up his trading company with Green in Zug in 1974, although the business was largely managed from New York. Rich's dealings with politically sensitive countries such as Iran attracted the attention of the US authorities.

In 1994, March Rich and Co changed its name to Glencore International, with Rich reducing his stake in it. His Marc Rich Group has its headquarters in Zug.

The mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, who helped to bring the charges against Rich in the 1980s, has criticised Clinton's decision.

"I'm shocked that the president of the United States would pardon him," he told journalists. "After all, he never paid a price. He got on an airplane, took all his records and ran off to Switzerland, where he's remained a fugitive since then."

Giuliani added that Rich had made "untold efforts to try to get the charges reduced, including many, many overtures and entreaties based on the use of influence".

He also said the US Congress should look into Clinton's pardon of Rich. But while Congress could review the decision, it has no power to overturn it.

Former White House adviser George Stephanopoulos also criticised the pardon, noting that Rich's ex wife had raised a considerable amount of money for the Democratic Party in recent years.

Denise Rich, a successful songwriter and three-time Grammy Award nominee, is said to have contributed more than $500,000 to the Democratic party in the past two years.

Asked about his decision, Clinton said he had spent much time over making it because the case was out of the ordinary.

"I spent a lot of personal time... because it's an unusual case, but [Rich's attorney Jack] Quinn made a strong case, and I was convinced he was right on the merits," Clinton said on Sunday.

Quinn, who once worked for Clinton, argued that changes in the law since 1983 had undercut the case against Rich. He added that it would be difficult for the billionaire to have a fair trial because of his long stay overseas.

When journalists asked Clinton on Monday for a further justification of his decision he refused to answer. "I'm out of office now," he told reporters at his home, "I'm not talking any more."

swissinfo with agencies


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