“Trading with the enemy”

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(South Africa, November 1, 2009) The King of Oil

Marc Rich, the international oil dealer once wanted in the US for trading with the enemy until pardoned by President Bill Clinton, secretly satisfied nearly all of apartheid South Africa’s oil demands for more than a decade in spite of international oil embargoes, and then continued doing business with the Mandela government after apartheid collapsed, according to a new book.The King of Oil 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.

“His final frontier was the earth’s crust and the treasures it contains,” says the book by Swiss journalist Daniel Ammann. “In order to achieve his ambitions, he traded with anyone who would trade with him, be they dictators or democrats, communists or capitalists. This all made him one of the richest men in the world – and a bogeyman to all political camps.”

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 off-loaded 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 because 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.

These 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 told the author in 30 hours of interviews that his trade with South Africa 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 Alan Fenton, formerly Felsenstein, the book says, who arranged for Rich to deliver four million metric tons of oil to South Africa in the first year of their contract, in 1979, in spite of the Iranian revolution’s prohibition of oil sales to Pretoria.

This shipment represented a third of South Africa’s annual oil needs. The apartheid regime paid $8 a barrel above spot market prices, or $1bn for 30m barrels, for the service. It netted Rich a $230m profit that first year alone. A 1984 probe led by Piet van der Walt, the advocate general, revealed these overpayments. President PW Botha later admitted South Africa had paid between $1bn and $2bn a year above market prices because of the international boycott, the book says.

The book lists all the countries that secretly sold oil to apartheid South Africa through Rich’s services. In addition to the Soviet Union and Iran, it says the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Dubai, Nigeria, Ecuador, Brunei and Angola all supplied the apartheid government.

(c) Copyright 2009 Independent Newspapers (UK) Limited. All rights reserved.

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