* Marc Rich dies of stroke aged 78
* Funeral to be in Tel Aviv on Thursday
* Invented oil trading
* Indicted over illegal oil sales, pardoned by Clinton
By Alice Baghdjian
LUCERNE, Switzerland, June 26 Billionaire Marc
Rich, who invented oil trading and was pardoned by President
Bill Clinton over tax evasion, racketeering and busting
sanctions with Iran, died on Wednesday in Switzerland aged 78.
Rich fled the Holocaust with his parents for America to
become the most successful and controversial trader of his time
and a fugitive from U.S. justice, enjoying decades of
comfortable privacy at his sprawling Villa Rosa on Lake Lucerne.
Belgian-born Rich, whose trading group eventually became the
global commodities powerhouse Glencore Xstrata, died in hospital
from a stroke, spokesman Christian Koenig said.
At the cream-painted, red-roofed villa, with views of the
nearby mountains and grounds sloping down to the banks of the
lake, security guards and other staff could be seen but there
was no sign of family members.
"He will be brought to Israel for burial," Avner Azulay,
managing director of the Marc Rich Foundation, said by
telephone. Rich will be buried on Thursday at Kibbutz Einat
cemetery near Tel Aviv.
Many of the biggest players in oil and metals trading trace
their roots back to the swashbuckling Rich, whose triumph in the
1970s was to pioneer a spot market for crude oil, wresting
business away from the world's big oil groups.
To his critics, he was a white-collar criminal, a serial
sanctions breaker, whom they accused of building a fortune
trading with revolutionary Iran, Muammar Gaddafi's Libya,
apartheid-era South Africa, Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania, Fidel
Castro's Cuba and Augusto Pinochet's Chile.
In interviews with journalist Daniel Ammann for his
biography, "The King of Oil", the normally obsessively secretive
Rich admitted to bribing officials in countries such as Nigeria
and to assisting the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.
Explaining Rich's route to riches in an interview with
Reuters in 2010, Ammann said: "He was faster and more aggressive
than his competitors. He was able to recognise trends and seize
opportunities before other traders. And he went where others
feared to tread - geographically and morally."
A U.S. government web site once described Rich more simply,
as "a white male, 177 centimetres in height ... wanted by the
Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Customs Service and
the U.S. Marshall Service." In 1983, he was on the FBI's 10 most
wanted list indicted for tax evasion, fraud and racketeering. At
the time, it was the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history.
TRUST, LOYALTY AND SECRECY
Rich, who valued trust, loyalty, secrecy and persistence,
always insisted he did nothing illegal and among those who
lobbied Clinton on his behalf for his pardon were Israeli
political heavyweights Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres.
On learning of the indictment plans, Rich fled to
Switzerland to escape the charges, which included exploiting the
U.S. embargo against Iran, while it was holding U.S. hostages,
to make huge profits on illicit Iranian oil sales.
"Marc Rich is to asset concealment what Babe Ruth was to
baseball," said Arthur J. Roth, New York state commissioner of
taxation and finance.
He remained under threat of a life sentence in a U.S. jail
until Clinton pardoned him during the last chaotic hours of his
presidency, a move that provoked moral outrage and bewilderment
amongst some politicians.
Rich's ex-wife, Denise, had donated funds for Clinton's
presidential library. The former president later said the
donation was not a factor in his decision and he had acted
partly in response to a request from Israel. But he regretted
granting the pardon, calling it "terrible politics."
"It wasn't worth the damage to my reputation," he told
Newsweek magazine in 2002.
There was also scrutiny over the role of Eric Holder, now
the attorney general and then a deputy attorney general who
recommended the pardon.
Rudolph Giuliani, who had worked as a prosecutor on the Rich
case before becoming New York Mayor, said in a statement: "Mark
Rich committed serious crimes against the United States and then
fled the country when he was called to account for his conduct.
He should never have been pardoned."
"The fact that Bill Clinton and Eric Holder engineered a
pardon for him - without input from me, as the U.S. Attorney who
prosecuted him, or Janet Reno, as Attorney General, will forever
be a blemish on our justice system," Giuliani said.
"ARTISTRY OF A POOL SHARK"
In one biography, "Metal Men: Marc Rich and the
10-billion-dollar Scam," author A. Craig Copetas described Rich
as "a beautifully sinister executive who could frame deals with
the artistry of a pool shark".
Rich inherited his business acumen from his father, who
became a millionaire by setting up an agricultural trading firm
after emigrating to the United States.
Rich, who was born Marcell David Reich in Antwerp on Dec.
18, 1934, started his career at Philipp Brothers, a top global
commodities trader after World War Two.
Posted to Madrid in the late 1960s, he found ways to bypass
the "Seven Sisters" major oil companies which controlled world
oil supplies, and is credited with inventing spot oil trading,
which involves sale or purchase for immediate delivery.
While at Phibro, Rich foresaw the huge price increases
imposed by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in
1973, earning big profits for the firm. However, he became
infuriated by his pay and trading strictures.
He left in 1974 with a fellow graduate of the Phibro
mailroom, Pincus "Pinky" Green, and set up Marc Rich and Co AG
in Switzerland, a firm that would eventually become Glencore
ANGER AND AMBITION
His aim, according to Copetas, was "to grind Philipp Bros.
into oblivion," and he poured all his anger and ambition as well
as his charm and gracious client demeanour into the new venture.
It became a highly successful trading firm and a much feared
adversary in energy, metals, minerals, grains and sugar markets.
Rich later sold that company, which became Glencore
International AG, and set up the Marc Rich Group. Rich was known
for charitable donations through his Doron Foundation and to
Zurich's Jewish community.
Glencore Xstrata Chief Executive Ivan Glasenberg said: "He
was a friend and one of the great pioneers of the commodities
trading industry, founding the company that became Glencore."
As well as his villa on the Swiss lake, Rich maintained
houses in Marbella in Spain and in Israel.
Rich described himself as a keen tennis player, skier,
alpinist and patron of the arts. Those who knew him said in
private Rich was calm and charming with a sense of humour.
In later years, Rich's fortune dwindled after his property
portfolio was hit by the Spanish housing crisis.
"I invested a lot of money there and because of the crisis
also lost a lot, at least on paper," he told Swiss economic
magazine Bilanz. Forbes put his wealth at $2.5 billion.
He also invested with Bernard Madoff, the financier later
convicted of operating a huge pyramid scheme. Rich told one
magazine that he had had a "strange feeling" about the
investment and "got out with everything", although he said he
lost some money through "indirect participation".
Rich once told Fortune magazine he was a normal person with
an image problem. "I've been portrayed in a horrible way," he
said, "as a workaholic, a loner, a money machine. It's not a
Nevertheless, to his enemies he remained a symbol of the
monomaniacal pursuit of vast wealth.
"The smoking gun is greed," said Ken Hill, a U.S. Marshall
who hunted Rich around the world for more than a decade. "This
is what Marc thrived on - the greed of those who had commodities
and were in positions of influence and power."
Those who knew him say Rich never lost his appetite for a
deal. He travelled to London earlier this month and had a dinner
with several old friends, an old acquaintance told Reuters.
"He was doing well. He told me he was doing a little bit of
business. 'I enjoy doing business,' he said."