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Marc Rich linked to Russian mafia?

(swissinfo.ch)

Italian investigators are calling into question the role of Marc Rich, a Swiss-based billionaire, in a money laundering scandal involving the Russian mafia.

Rich's name came up amid a global, Italian-led crackdown on money laundering, codenamed "Operation Spiderweb", which led to 50 arrests and at least 300 searches in Italy on Monday. The illicit funds are thought to stem from the Russian mafia with links to European organised crime.

Documents obtained by swissinfo from the court of justice in Bologna, Italy, reveal that a company called Nordex - which the Italian authorities say Marc Rich helped to set up - is suspected of being closely linked to the Russian mafia.

Authorities believe that the company's main founder, Gregory Loutschansky, was a leading figure within the criminal organisation.

The 57-year old Uzbek features on a list of 101 people against whom the court has issued an arrest warrant. He was previously sentenced to seven years imprisonment in Lithuania for theft of property belonging to the state.

Smuggling

British authorities investigating Nordex in the past said the company was a vehicle for smuggling illicit funds and material goods belonging to the communist party out of Russia, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Marc Rich has refused to comment on the allegations, which appeared in the Italian newspaper "Corriere della Sera" on Wednesday. His spokesman, the director of Marc Rich Holdings, Thomas Frutig, denied that there was any link between Rich and any of the companies under investigation.

Rich is not on the list of suspects being investigated by the Italian authorities, but his name has cropped up frequently during the course of investigations.

He was granted a pardon by the former United States president, Bill Clinton, in 2000 after being wanted by the FBI for evading $48 million in tax. The Belgian-born business tycoon, who made his fortune in trading in raw materials such as oil, fled to Switzerland in 1983, where he has remained ever since.

Illicit funds

Italian authorities have also linked Swiss-based Glencore International - a multinational founded by Rich in 1974 - to another company called Benex, which has been under investigation since 1999 for laundering illicit funds totalling $7 billion from the Bank of New York.

"Marc Rich has no links to Nordex or Benex," said Rich's spokesman, Frutig. "He has no shares in Glencore, and we've received no information from the Italian authorities."

Investigators discovered that Benex, along with two other companies, was a screen for illegal activities by Russian banks, which transferred the funds to offshore accounts with the help of a senior manager at the Bank of New York.

Analysts now believe that the mafia may have transferred its activities from New York to Italy following the start of investigations in the US.

Meanwhile, Glencore International, which is headquartered in the Switzerland, has strongly refuted any involvement with the money laundering network.

"Glencore is neither tied to Benex nor Nodex," Glencore spokeswoman, Lotti Grenacher, told swissinfo. "And it's not up to us to comment on Marc Rich's involvement with those companies."

Rich sold the commodity trading arm of "Marc Rich & Co" in 1994, after which it was renamed Glencore. Since that time, he had bowed out of all involvement with the business, Grenacher said.

swissinfo/Luigi Canal


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