By Steve LeVine*, October 16, 2009
John Deuss lived a heady 1980s. This Dutchman of proverbial humble roots in the eastern Netherlands city of Nijmegen became worth hundreds of millions of dollars by ignoring a United Nations boycott and shipping Middle East oil to South Africa. On the strength of those dollars, Deuss bought and raced thoroughbreds, bought estates in Florida, Bermuda, Connecticut, Jackson Hole and of course Nijmegen. He sailed on a huge yacht, stayed at the Ritz in Paris, owned a high-end magazine, and of course — as readers of O&G know — became a thorn in Chevron’s side in Kazakhstan. Today, Deuss is submerged in legal problems associated with a British investigation of a tax fraud scheme that channeled millions of dollars to accounts in the Dutchman’s Caribbean bank.
What isn’t discussed much is that Deuss wasn’t the only one enriching himself on the South Africa oil trade. There actually were two main oil dealers to the pariah government. The other was Marc Rich, the infamous former owner of Marc Rich & Co., a commodities firm that, among other places including Iran, cornered the market for numerous categories of fabulously valuable metals in the former Soviet Union. Rich was charged with tax evasion in the U.S., and fled to Switzerland before then-President Bill Clinton pardoned him on his last day in office.
In a new book by Swiss journalist Daniel Ammann, Rich apparently spills the beans on much of his career. It’s called The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich. The New York Times’ Jad Mouawad rang up Ammann and asked why Rich opened up. Ammann replied: “There is a funny word in German for this — altersmilder — which means the kindness of old age. Marc Rich is now 74, and maybe he realized that if he didn’t talk, no one would see his side of the story.”
Perhaps Deuss — and even James Giffen — will do the same some day?
*Steve LeVine covers foreign affairs for Business Week. He previously was correspondent for Central Asia and the Caucasus for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times for 11 years.