In his final hours in office, President Bill Clinton pardoned Rich, a move that sparked great criticism.
Rich was born Marcell David Reich on December 18, 1934 in Antwerp, Belgium. His parents were working class Jews who emigrated with their son to the United States in 1941 to escape the Holocaust. His father opened a jewelry store in Kansas City, Missouri. The family moved toNew York City in 1950, where Rich’s father started a company that imported Bengalijute to make burlap bags. Rich’s father later started a business trading agricultural products and helped found the American Bolivian Bank.
Rich went on to become one of history’s most successful commodity traders, a billionaire who cornered the market for aluminum, silver and zinc and promoted a spot market for oil outside the control of the international petroleum giants.
In 1983 Rich and partner Pincus Green were indicted on 65 criminal counts, including income tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering, and trading with Iran during the oil embargo (at a time when Iranian revolutionaries were still holding American citizens hostage). The charges would have led to a sentence of more than 300 years in prison had Rich been convicted on all counts. The indictment was filed by then U.S. Federal ProsecutorRudy Giuliani. At the time it was the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history.
Hearing of the plans for the indictment, Rich fled to Switzerland and, always insisting that he was not guilty, never returned to the U.S. to answer the charges. Rich’s companies eventually pled guilty to 35 counts of tax evasion and paid $90 million in fines, although Rich himself remained on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List for many years, narrowly evading capture in Britain, Germany, Finland, and Jamaica.
From 1966 to 1996, he was married to songwriter Denise Rich, who, following President Clinton’s pardon, it was learned had made large donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton library, and that Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Barak, had lobbied Clinton for the pardon.
Forbes reported Rich had a net worth of $2.5 billion as of March 2012.
Rich married Gisela Rossi in 1998, and they divorced in 2005. He is survived by two daughters, Ilona Rich Schachter and Daniella Rich Kilstock, and six grandchildren. Another daughter, Gabrielle, died of leukemia in 1996.