Commodities kingpin and fugitive American ex-pat Marc Rich died today from a stroke at the age of 78 in a hospital in Lucerne, Switzerland. Rich was the founder in 1974 of Marc Rich & Co. AG, a pioneering oil-trading firm. Beginning with a management buyout in 1994, the firm eventually became what is today Glencore Xstrata, the world’s largest commodities trading house. The Belgian-born Rich started out at the bottom but became a powerful and shadowy figure in financial circles.
Born in Antwerp in 1934, he spent his childhood in Philadelphia, Kansas City and New York. He dropped out of NYU and went to work in the mail room of trading firm Philipp Brothers (Phibro) in 1954. With long-term partner Pincus Green, he built Phibro into world’s largest trader of oil, grain, metals. He left Phibro in the mid-1970s to start his eponymous firm where, in the 1970s, he traded everything from nickel to gold to oil and in huge volumes, showing an apolitical willingness to wheel and deal with dictators and rogue states around the globe.
Rich grew intensely press-shy after being indicted for trading oil with Iran during the 1980s hostage crisis, as well as evading more than $48 million in U.S. taxes, at the time the biggest tax-evasion case in U.S. history. He fled to Switzerland in 1983, and never returned to the U.S. Law enforcement stayed after him for years without any luck, until their hunt was ended by Bill Clinton, who pardoned Rich (and Green) along with 138 others on Clinton’s last day in the Oval Office in 2001, a decision the President later came to regret. Rich’s ex-wife Denise Rich, a songwriter and big Clinton political donor, was caught up in the outrage that ensued from the pardon.
Rich was a longtime member of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans but, given a lack of information and evidence of sufficient wealth, was dropped from the rich list in 2010. Earlier this year in an interview with Swiss journalist and Rich biographer Daniel Ammann, Rich dismissed rumors that his health was failing and heaped praise on Glencore chief Ivan Glasenberg, who became a multi-billionaire when the firm went public, calling him “brilliant” — and adding that he plans to buy shares in Glencore. He also told Ammann that he made money with Bernard Madoff, and that — despite missing New York — he won’t return to the U.S., fearing federal agents will “come up with something else and attack [him] again.” Rich told Ammann he cooperated extensively with U.S. authorities, offering up information on his contacts while on the run.
According to Reuters, Rich’s body will be transported to Israel to be buried in a kibbutz near Tel Aviv. Rich gave away more than $100 million to Jewish causes and leukemia research over the years.