Daniel Ammann is the author of The King of Oil: the Secret Lives of Marc Rich and business
editor of Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche. Kieran Leahy spoke to him about the subject of his book.
KL: After all this time hiding from publicity, why do you think Rich chose to speak out now?
DA: In truth I was trying to speak to him for seven or eight years. I had followed his story very closely and wanted to know more – I wrote letters and faxes but no answer. Then exactly three years ago he agreed. When I asked him why he had finally agreed to talk, he said, a bit ironically, “age and maturity”. But I think he knew me as a journalist and he knew he would get a tough but fair assessment from me – that I would write not just about his failures but also his achievements.
KL: What were your biggest impressions of him as a trader and businessman?
DA: I got the impression that trust and loyalty are very important to him. In many deals he often wouldn’t rely on contracts but on the idea that “my word is my bond”. What also surprised was that he thought so much in the long term. I had more of an image of him as a speculator, someone who only dealt in short-term speculation, so it was surprising that he took such a long-term view. His deal with Jamaica was a very interesting case in this regard. He pre-financed their operations and he essentially bailed the country out. Marc Rich & Co also enabled African countries to trade their own resources. I knew all the bad things, the sanctions-busting etc., so these things came as a surprise to me. That was the irony – he was a bogeyman to the political left, those who saw him as exploiting the Third World, but it was him that enabled them to be independent and not have to rely on big Western companies. Through this I also saw some of the inherent hypocrisy of the commodities world. Countries like Iran and the Soviet Union, who publicly denounced apartheid, they were selling their oil to Marc Rich and they knew he was selling it to South Africa.
KL: You mentioned Rich’s pioneering use of pre-financing. One of the things that comes across in the book is how Glencore started from where Rich left off – the clear lineage between the two in terms of trading practices.
DA: Absolutely. He was their mentor. People like [Glencore chairman Willy] Strothotte and [Glencore ceo Ivan] Glasenberg, they learnt everything they knew from him. They learnt their business from him and evolved it. For instance, it was Rich who bought the stake in the company Sudelektra before it became Xstrata.
KL: You were able to speak to a lot of people who worked and dealt with Rich. Rudy Giuliani, the then US prosecutor, is conspicuous by his absence. You give the impression that much of the blame over the legal furore with Rich was his fault.
DA: There were some people who chose not to speak to me at all but in the end more people chose to speak to me than I thought. I had to take an extra year to write the book. But yes, Giuliani didn’t respond at all – I really tried to contact him. I think (the case against Rich) was a conscious escalation on his part. It doesn’t make sense for him to have gone against two individuals – Rich and Pinky Green – while he let the company Marc Rich off after they paid the $200 million fine. He knew it could help him politically if he went after Rich.
KL: Who would be the subject of a book on the “next” Marc Rich in 25 years?
DA: The next book on someone like Marc Rich won’t be on an individual, it will be about a company, probably Glencore. Marc Rich was unique – he was the right person at the right time, in the ‘70s when control of oil was changing from the big companies to the countries that produced it. They needed traders like Rich. He was a pioneer.
Copyright © Metal Bulletin Ltd. All rights reserved. November 20, 2009