More than 25 years since his flight from US prosecution, Marc Rich has chosen to finally tell all in this extraordinary book by Swiss journalist Daniel Ammann. Through interviews with Rich himself and many that knew or worked with him during his career, Ammann presents a warts-and-all story of the life of Rich.
By Kieran Leahy, November 19, 2009
It is hard to overstate Rich’s influence. He sold Glencore International, one of the world’s largest commodities traders, to its management back in 1994. The techniques he taught his employees, such as providing finance to struggling miners and metal companies in return for offtake, are as significant today as they were when Rich was in his prime, as the recent launch of funds devoted to such tactics has demonstrated in recent months. But after years of avoiding publicity, what has made the world’s most successful and infamous commodities trader choose to speak out now? As the author told the New York Times, “There is a funny word in German for this — altersmilder — which means the kindness of old age. Marc Rich is now 74, and maybe he realised that if he didn’t talk, no one would see his side of the story.”
It seems that years of being depicted as the “biggest devil” – as Rich himself puts it – has not been easy for him. Given the vilification Rich has suffered over the years, Ammann offers an alternativaccount of his rise to power to his fall from grace via his infamous indictment for tax fraud.
Rich’s controversial oil and metals deals with Cuba, apartheid-era South Africa, Iran, Israel, Jamaica and Angola – which are all told in fascinating detail – are portrayed not as the work of an unscrupulous, immoral profiteer that many undoubtedly still believe him to be, but that of the rational, pragmatic, apolitical commodities trader, providing services to a market in need. As many traders are forced to do, Rich occupied a grey area; but he distinguished himself by occupying it more quickly and aggressively and for longer than anyone else. And for those of us who were not around to witness Rich’s career first-hand, this book often reads like the training manual on how his successors have become as powerful as they are today.
Aside from the personal portrait of Rich, details make this book absorbing. We learn Marc Rich & Co pocketed a massive $2 billion from his clandestine sales of Soviet and Iranian oil to South Africa from 1974-1993; that following Rich’s flight to Switzerland in 1983, a single US marshal tracked him for 14 years in a failed bid to arrest him; how Rich admits his company’s greatest failure was the $172 million loss from David Rosenberg’s disastrous attempt to corner the zinc market in 1992; how he sold his stake in the company for $480 million; and how his pardon on Bill Clinton’s last day in office as US president in 2001 was partly the result of Rich’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Perhaps most intriguingly of all, Rich admits that if it had not been for zealotry of the US prosecutors, he would not have been forced into the management buyout that created Glencore. MB hopes it doesn’t have to wait another 25 years before it learns as much about those who picked up from where Rich left off. Copyright
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