The New York Times on The King of Oil


October 16, 2009

By JAD MOUAWAD – Marc Rich, the former fugitive oil trader long criticized for his business ties to nations like Iran, South Africa and Cuba, has acknowledged in a new book that his dealings with those nations were more extensive than previously disclosed.

In more than 30 hours of conversations with a Swiss journalist, Daniel Ammann, the usually tight-lipped Mr. Rich gave an extensive account of his oil trading from the 1970s through the 1990s.

Those dealings, which straddled ideological lines from Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran to Fidel Castro’s Cuba and from the apartheid regime of South Africa to the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, are recounted in Mr. Ammann’s book, “The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich,” released this week by St. Martin’s Press.

In 1983, Mr. Rich was indicted by the United States on charges of tax evasion as well as trading with an enemy state, Iran. He fled the United States and became one of the nation’s most infamous fugitives over the next two decades.

Mr. Rich told the author that while on the run, he provided intelligence to American diplomats about Iran, the Soviet Union and other countries. He was granted a controversial pardon by President Bill Clinton on the last day of his presidency.

In the interviews with Mr. Ammann, Mr. Rich claimed that South Africa was his largest and most important client. The author estimated that Mr. Rich earned over $2 billion trading with South Africa from 1979 to 1993.

Mr. Rich also offered details about how much oil he bought from Iran — before and after the Islamic revolution — even as President Jimmy Carter imposed sanctions on the country after 53 Americans were taken hostage in November 1979.

After the Iranian revolution, the national oil company continued to sell 40 million to 75 million barrels of oil a year to Mr. Rich’s company, abiding by previous agreements with the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Mr. Rich continued to buy oil from Iran until 1994, when he sold his company.

“They respected the contracts,” Mr. Rich told Mr. Ammann. “We performed a service for them. We bought the oil, we handled the transport and we sold it. They couldn’t do it themselves, so we were able to do it.”

At the same time, Mr. Rich kept Iranian oil flowing to Israel even after the new government in Tehran severed diplomatic relations with Israel.

From 1973 to 1993, Mr. Rich said he was Israel’s most important oil supplier, delivering 7 million to 15 million barrels a year.

“Being Jewish, I didn’t mind helping Israel,” Mr. Rich is quoted as saying. “On the contrary.”

Mr. Ammann, the business editor at the Swiss weekly magazine Die Weltwoche, said Mr. Rich remained unapologetic, adding in an interview: “He showed no remorse whatsoever.”

Throughout that period, Mr. Rich claims he provided valuable information to the State Department as well as the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service.

“Its agents were in regular contact with the fugitive trader,” according to the book. “They wanted his opinions on various ‘key people in power’ in some of the politically sensitive countries where he did business,” especially Iran, Syria and Russia.

Mr. Ammann also recounts attempts to bring Mr. Rich to justice in the United States. After failing to secure an extradition from Swiss authorities, American agents unsuccessfully tried to kidnap Mr. Rich, according to the book. The author cites one plan, which was never carried out, that involved landing a helicopter in Zug to snatch Mr. Rich away.

Asked why Mr. Rich had chosen to confide in him, Mr. Ammann said: “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.”

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