- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

Federal authorities are investigating accusations that billionaire financier Marc Rich, who received a questionable pardon on President Clinton’s last day in office, brokered millions of dollars in deals between Saddam Hussein and other key traders as part of the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal.

Law-enforcement authorities yesterday confirmed that Mr. Rich’s role as a possible middleman for Saddam and others in oil deals, which appear to have been intended to circumvent U.N. sanctions against Iraq’s government, is a focus in the ongoing inquiry. They said the deals under scrutiny occurred within a month of his pardon.

Mr. Rich fled to Switzerland after his 1983 indictment by Justice Department prosecutors on 65 counts of racketeering, fraud, tax evasion and illegal oil trading in a case involving the evasion of $48 million in taxes and the violation of U.S. sanctions by trading with Iran while American hostages were held in that country. He has been unavailable for comment.

At the time of the Jan. 20, 2001, pardon order, Mr. Rich was No. 6 on the Justice Department’s outstanding fugitives list. Prosecutors had refused for 17 years to negotiate with Mr. Rich over the charges.

Saddam, now in U.S. custody as a result of the Iraqi war, is believed to have pocketed more than $21 million in funds as a result of the illegal deals, according to shipping records now being reviewed by federal prosecutors.

Named as a key player in the oil-for-food scandal is U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose resignation has been demanded by Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, who heads a congressional investigation into the program.

The new inquiry was first reported this month by ABC News. The New York Post yesterday, citing senior law-enforcement officials, reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau also are investigating Mr. Rich’s ties to the oil program.

Authorities yesterday said investigators want to know whether Mr. Rich and other prominent oil traders made illegal payments to Iraq to obtain the lucrative oil contracts.

They said the probe also has focused on questions of whether illicit cash from the deals was funneled to Mr. Rich’s wife, Denise, who contributed $276,500 to the Democratic National Committee between March and November 2000 and gave an additional $450,000 to Mr. Clinton’s presidential library in Arkansas in May 2000.

The House Government Reform Committee, which investigated the last-minute pardon, concluded in a report that Mr. Rich and his business partner, Pincus Green, had long-standing ties to Saddam that were well-known to U.S. intelligence officials at the time of the pardon.

“Rich and Green have had extensive trade with terrorist states and other enemies of the United States. Despite clear legal restrictions on such trade, Rich and Green have engaged in commodities trading with Iraq, Iran, Cuba and other rogue states that have sponsored terrorist acts,” the committee said, noting that that information was available to Mr. Clinton prior to his signing of the pardon.

The committee also said Mr. Rich attempted to violate the U.N. embargo against Iraq during the Persian Gulf war and that U.S. officials had been investigating charges that Mr. Rich lent money to Saddam’s government in exchange for future deliveries of cheap oil. It said he had “communications with Iraq” beginning in 1991.

Mr. Rich remains the focus of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York in the pardon, which Mr. Clinton said was awarded based on the merits of the case, which were never explained. The pardon was signed despite the fact that three of Mr. Clinton’s closest White House advisers vigorously opposed it.

Former White House Deputy Counsels Bruce Lindsey and Beth Nolan, along with Chief of Staff John Podesta, told the House committee they recommended against the pardon, although Miss Nolan said Mr. Clinton approved it after a call from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Miss Nolan testified that Mr. Barak called to urge clemency for Mr. Rich, based on millions of dollars in humanitarian gifts he contributed to Israel. She said the Barak call may have persuaded him.

“It certainly seemed he was not going to grant it, and that Mr. Barak’s phone call was significant,” she said.

Records show that a team of international lawyers assembled by Mr. Rich began as early as March 2000 to secure a pardon for the fugitive financier, suggesting at one point that his wife be sent on a “personal mission” to Mr. Clinton “with a well-prepared script.”

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