Monday, January 22, 2001

The former wife of Marc Rich, the fugitive commodities trader and tax evader pardoned by President Clinton in his final hours in office, donated more than $1 million to Democratic causes since 1992, including Bill Clinton’s and Al Gore’s presidential campaigns.

Mr. Rich fled to Switzerland in 1983 after the U.S. government indicted him on 65 counts of tax fraud, racketeering and tax evasion charges that carry a maximum 325 years in jail.

The billionaire trader, one of the world’s richest men, was accused of evading more than $48 million in taxes and faced prosecution for violating U.S. sanctions by trading oil with Iran during the time Iran held American hostages.

Denise Rich, who now lives in New York, contributed nearly $1.3 million to Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore’s campaigns, the Democratic National Committee and various Democratic causes, including contributions to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s New York Senate campaign. She also has donated to more than a dozen congressional campaigns.

Mrs. Rich, who identifies herself on federal contribution records as a “songwriter,” “actress” or “philanthropist,” also gave money to pro-choice and family-planning organizations with Democratic ties and a group called “Friends of Albert Gore, Jr. Inc.”

She contributed as well to the campaigns of former Sen. Charles S. Robb of Virginia and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland.

It was not clear if she was married to Mr. Rich when she made the contributions, but a January 1992 Fortune magazine article about her husband identified Mrs. Rich as his wife.

Mr. Rich’s attorney, former Clinton White House counsel Jack Quinn, had been lobbying for a pardon for Mr. Rich. Asked yesterday about the pardon of Mr. Rich, Mr. Clinton said he had spent a lot of time considering the case.

“I spent a lot of personal time … because it’s an unusual case, but Quinn made a strong case, and I was convinced he was right on the merits,” said Mr. Clinton, speaking to reporters in suburban Chappaqua, N.Y., where he now lives.

“That’s all I can say. Others might disagree, but I think Quinn made a very compelling case in the end.”

Mr. Rich and his former business partner, Pincus Green, have not returned to the United States since their companies pleaded guilty in 1984 to evading millions of dollars in taxes by concealing profits on oil trading. They remain in Switzerland, a haven for laundered money that does not recognize tax evasion as sufficient grounds for extradition.

The case against the two men and Mr. Rich’s Swiss metals and commodities trading firm, Marc Rich & Co., was at the time the largest tax-evasion case in U.S. history.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. Rich, now 66, conspired in April 1980 with the Iranian government to purchase more than 6 million barrels of oil, in violation of the trade embargo imposed by the United States.

Mr. Clinton granted pardons to 140 persons Saturday, including a key figure in the Whitewater scandal, Susan McDougal; former CIA Director John Deutch; ex-Housing and Urban Development head Henry Cisneros; and one-time fugitive heiress Patty Hearst Shaw. Mr. Clinton also pardoned Mr. Green.

The pardon does not erase a criminal record, although it does restore rights lost as a result of a criminal conviction, such as the right to vote or the right to carry weapons. In cases where a pardon is issued to someone who has not been convicted of a crime, the pardon ends all pending legal matters.

Pardons often are granted to those who have adopted high-profile philanthropic campaigns, something Mr. Rich’s associates say he has done.

Mr. Clinton said he tried to use pardons to restore rights to those who had paid for their misdeeds.

“You’re not saying these people didn’t commit the offense. You’re saying they paid, they paid in full, and they’ve been out long enough after their sentence to show they’re good citizens, so they ought to have a chance to get full citizenship,” Mr. Clinton said.

“As long as we live in a world where you can never vote again or have full citizenship unless you get a pardon, then the word ‘pardon’ is somehow almost a misnomer.”

It is not clear how Mr. Rich “paid in full.” He told the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv last year that he has attempted to settle his tax fraud case with the United States on numerous occasions, even offering to pay more than $100 million in fines, but balked at prosecutors’ insistence that he serve jail time.

Despite his fugitive status, Mr. Rich has remained a force in world-commodity trading. The Fortune magazine article said Mr. Rich had, since 1988, sold the U.S. Mint more than $25 million in copper, nickel and other metals to make coins.

“Now Congress wants to know how Rich … made a cozy customer out of the same government that indicted him,” Fortune reported.

Rep. Bob Wise, West Virginia Democrat, called a special subcommittee hearing into the matter and accused the Mint and the Treasury of “enriching the biggest tax evader in U.S. history.” Embarrassed Treasury officials promised to consider putting his U.S. affiliate, Clarendon Ltd., on the blacklist for government procurement, Fortune reported.

Despite his own personal legal cloud, Mr. Rich’s firm, based in Zug, Switzerland, still trades in metals and grain, with about $6 billion in trading volume. The firm employs about 300 people in offices in London; Moscow; Beijing; Bucharest, Romania; and White Plains, N.Y.

Mr. Rich has spent 17 years living in exile, but he does not live as a man on the run. He lives primarily in a guarded villa in Zug, where the walls are adorned with paintings by van Gogh, Picasso and Monet. He spends time at his residences in Israel and Spain, both of which, like Switzerland, do not recognize tax-fraud charges under their extradition agreements with the U.S. government.

Mr. Rich has been a free spender during stays in Israel, becoming one of the country’s biggest philanthropists. Bloomberg News Service reported in 1999 that Mr. Rich gave $3 million to the Tel Aviv Museum and $1.4 million to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and another $1 million to help construct the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

Other charitable donations Mr. Rich has made include gifts to Swiss concert halls, an eye clinic in Zimbabwe and a health program for Palestinian children. In all, Mr. Rich’s associates say, he has given more than $100 million to charitable groups in 50 different countries since he was indicted.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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