- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2001

Billionaire financier Marc Rich, a fugitive from justice for 17 years until his Inauguration Day presidential pardon by Bill Clinton, is under investigation by Swiss authorities in connection with suspected money-laundering violations.

While House and Senate committees in the United States prepare to hold hearings this week on the controversial Rich pardon, Swiss officials confirmed yesterday that their investigators also have focused on the former fugitive.

Swiss authorities said they want to know if Mr. Rich's trading firm, known as Marc Rich & Co., failed to control and verify the origin of large cash transactions in accordance with Swiss money-laundering laws. The firm, located in Zug, Switzerland, is required under legislation passed last year to adhere to strict banklike reporting guidelines when handling large sums of money.

The Swiss probe, first reported by the Associated Press in Geneva, resulted in threats yesterday from Mr. Rich to move his multimillion-dollar operation out of Switzerland. The threats were dismissed by Swiss officials, who said Mr. Rich was "free to relocate to wherever he pleases… . We're not impressed at all when we hear threats."

Mr. Rich, who fled to Switzerland after his 1983 indictment in the United States in what federal prosecutors described as the biggest tax-fraud case in U.S. history, has argued through his attorneys that his commodities trading firm should be exempt from newly instituted Swiss regulations because the company operates differently than banks.

The argument has been rejected by Swiss authorities who steadfastly refused to extradite Mr. Rich to the United States because Switzerland does not recognize tax evasion as a crime.

Since the Jan. 20 pardon, several newspapers in Switzerland have questioned the propriety of that country's continued support of the former fugitive. Mr. Rich is listed by a Swiss financial monthly magazine as having a personal wealth of about $1.2 billion.

Mr. Clinton has taken "full responsibility" for the pardon and has denied that it was politically motivated. He told reporters last week in New York the pardon was decided "on the merits" and that he had handled it "in what I thought was the most appropriate way."

The Rich pardon was among 140 Mr. Clinton signed less than two hours before leaving office.

Questions have been raised over possible connections between the pardon and Mr. Rich's ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, who donated $1.3 million to the Democratic Party, including Mr. Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Mrs. Rich personally lobbied the president for the pardon and donated more than $7,000 worth of furniture for the Clintons' New York home.

House and Senate investigators are trying to determine how Mr. Clinton reached the decision to grant the pardon. They want to know if Mr. Clinton's last-minute pardon was based on improper motives; if law enforcement authorities were consulted; and if any regulations governing the lobbying of the president were violated.

Mark Corallo, spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee, which will begin hearings into the Rich pardon on Thursday, yesterday stopped short of saying whether the Swiss money-laundering inquiry would be incorporated into the congressional probe. However, he stressed that Mr. Rich's finances were of concern to the committee.

"The committee intends to look into all of Mr. Rich's financial transactions as they may relate to his criminal conduct," Mr. Corallo said.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, has threatened to call Mr. Clinton to testify, along with Mrs. Rich and her ex-husband's attorney, Jack Quinn, the former Clinton White House counsel who also lobbied the president for the pardon. The Senate's hearings begin on Wednesday.

Mark Levine, former chief of staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese III, said Congress has a "legitimate legislative oversight function" to investigate Mr. Rich's finances.

"For those who say we need to get the Clinton administration behind us, I would remind them that the biggest tax cheat in this country's history was granted a pardon by one of the most corrupt presidents in history," he said. "We are either a nation of laws or we're not."

Mr. Rich fled the country after his indictment on charges of racketeering, tax evasion and violating federal energy regulations for trading oil with Iran while Americans were being held hostage in that country. He was accused of diverting $70 million in illegal profits to Swiss banks from the resale of crude oil.

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