Billionaire Marc Rich, who invented modern spot-oil trading and was pardoned by president Bill Clinton over tax evasion, racketeering and busting sanctions with Iran, died Wednesday in Switzerland. He was 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, Switzerland.
Belgian-born Rich, whose trading group eventually became the global commodities powerhouse Glencore Xstrata, died in a hospital from a stroke, spokesman Christian Koenig said.
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," Rich admitted to bribing officials in countries such as Nigeria and to assisting the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.
In 1983, he was on the FBI's 10 most wanted list, indicted on charges of tax evasion, fraud and racketeering. At the time, it was the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history.
Rich 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.
Rich remained under threat of a life sentence in a U.S. jail until Clinton pardoned him during the last hours of his presidency.
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, saying, "It wasn't worth the damage to my reputation."