(South Africa, November 1, 2009) The King of Oil
Marc Rich, an international oil dealer once wanted in the US for trading with the enemy until pardoned by US president Bill Clinton, secretly provided nearly all of apartheid South Africa’s oil demands for more than a decade despite international embargoes, says a new book. By Dave Chambers.
In typical amoral and apolitical style, Rich then continued doing business with the Mandela government after apartheid collapsed, according to the book King of Oil.
The book by Swiss journalist Daniel Ammann documents Rich trading for the Shah of Iran and then the Ayatollah Khomeini after the 1979 Islamic revolution, selling oil to Batista’s Cuba and then to Fidel Castro after the 1959 Cuban revolt, and trading Marxist Angola’s crude, protected by Cuban troops, while South African and US-backed Unita rebels tried to overthrow the government.
“In order to achieve his ambitions, he traded with anyone who would trade with him, be they dictators or democrats, communists or capitalists,” says the book.
The book reveals for the first time the existence of telexes that prove that a Soviet oil shipment on a Norwegian flagged vessel intended for Odessa in September 1988 secretly offloaded in Cape Town with the flag removed and the ship’s name covered.
The Iranian revolution was a disaster for apartheid South Africa’s oil imports as the mullahs cut off all Iranian exports, which had provided South Africa with 90 percent of its oil. South Africa and Iranian ties had extended to the Shah’s father settling in exile in South Africa where Persians were considered “honorary whites”, the book says.
The Rich shipments to the apartheid regime came after the non-binding UN General Assembly oil embargo and various national embargoes, including US sanctions against oil shipments to South Africa after 1986.
Rich also broke US sanctions when he traded with Iran after its Islamic revolution in 1979, while American hostages were held in Tehran. This led to his indictment in New York for trading with the enemy.
After several failed attempts by the US to kidnap Rich and bring him to justice, Clinton’s last act in office was to pardon Rich. Rich’s former wife Denise was a major donor to Clinton’s Democratic party.
Rich told the author that his trade with South Africa in the 15 years between 1979 and 1994 was his “most important and most profitable business” ever. And it did not end when apartheid did. Rich’s agent in South Africa was a man by the name of Alan Fenton, the book says. Fenton arranged for Rich to deliver 4 million metric tons of oil to South Africa in the first year of their contract, in 1979, despite the Iranian revolution’s prohibition of oil sales to Pretoria.
The shipment represented a third of South Africa’s annual oil needs. The apartheid regime paid $8 above spot market prices, or $1 billion for 30 million barrels, for the special service. It netted Rich a profit of $230 million that first year alone. A 1984 investigation led by Piet van der Walt, the advocate general, revealed the $8-a-barrel overpayments. President PW Botha later admitted that South Africa had paid between $1bn and $2bn a year above market prices because of the boycott, the book says.
Rich’s relationship with the regime lasted until 1994, when apartheid collapsed. In all, his Swiss-based company made $2bn
in profit from it.
In one deal alone, South Africa’s Strategic Fuel Fund paid out $306m to Rich, according to records of debates in Parliament in 1984.
“Although Rich believed the system of apartheid in South Africa was fundamentally, wrong, he also believes that business had nothing to do with politics,” the book says.
When the ANC came to power, Rich’s long support of the apartheid regime was forgiven. “Rich continued to do business with the new democratic government … despite all of the anti-Rich rhetoric from the ANC,” the book says.
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