Influential Backers Helped Commodities Trader Win Pardon

Patrick Mcgeehan and Alison Leigh Cowan - NY Times - January 24, 2001

As part of his successful last-minute bid for a pardon from President Clinton, Marc Rich, the commodities trader who had evaded prosecution for 18 years, received letters of support from dozens of politicians, financiers and officials of charitable organizations that were given to Mr. Clinton last month.

While Mr. Clinton's pardon of Mr. Rich on Saturday stunned United States law enforcement officials, the effort to obtain it was no secret to dozens of influential people in this country, Europe and Israel. The list of people who wrote letters for or about Mr. Rich in the last two months of 2000 is a virtual Who's Who of Israeli society and Jewish philanthropy. It includes Shabtai Shavit, a businessman who once headed Israel's secret intelligence arm; Zubin Mehta, the managing director of Israel's Philharmonic; two former mayors of Israeli cities, and several museum directors.

More than 20 people joined Mr. Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, in addressing letters to President Clinton seeking a pardon, and more than 50 others wrote letters to Mr. Rich or his charitable foundation simply attesting to his generosity. The letters were attached to a request for a pardon that was sent directly to President Clinton in December by three lawyers representing Mr. Rich.

The application makes no mention of contrition on the part of Mr. Rich, emphasizing instead his philanthropic efforts and the suffering it says he has endured in exile in Switzerland and Spain. The only blame is reserved for federal prosecutors and the lawyers who handled Mr. Rich's original defense, which, his current lawyers wrote, "followed an unfortunate" strategy of no communication and no negotiation.

Mr. Rich and his former partner, Pincus Green, have lived in Europe since they fled the United States during an investigation into their oil-Strading activities that led to a 1983 indictment on 51 counts of tax evasion, racketeering and violating sanctions against trading with Iran. Neither man is now a United States citizen, the application to Mr. Clinton says, though it does not address how that came about.

The pardons granted to both men on Saturday eliminated the charges and freed them to return to the United States, said Robert F. Fink, a partner in the Manhattan law firm Piper, Marbury, Rudnick & Wolfe. Mr. Fink teamed with Jack Quinn, a former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore and a former counsel to President Clinton, and Kathleen Behan, a lawyer in Washington.

The pardon has drawn harsh criticism from prosecutors and former prosecutors, including Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was the United States attorney in Manhattan when the men were charged. The first word of the pardon, which did not make the usual rounds inside the Justice Department, reached lawyers in the United States attorney's office on Saturday morning, leaving them "shocked and absolutely flabbergasted," said one person who works there.

In their petition, Mr. Rich's lawyers argued that the "recalcitrant and unreasonable refusal" by the federal prosecutors to negotiate with them unless Mr. Rich returned left a presidential pardon as the only way to "resolve the controversy."

Mr. Clinton said on Sunday that Mr. Quinn had persuaded him to grant pardons to Mr. Rich and Mr. Green, but he did not elaborate and he referred questions to Mr. Quinn. Mr. Quinn referred calls to Mr. Fink, who said he believed the president had been convinced that the criminal charges against the men had not been justified.

Ms. Rich, a prominent fund-raiser for the Democratic Party, also called the White House to ask for a pardon for her ex-husband, Mr. Fink said. A spokesman for Ms. Rich had said on Monday that she had not been involved in the effort to obtain a pardon and was surprised when it was granted.

Yesterday, Ms. Rich hired a new spokesman, Howard J. Rubenstein, and is said to be looking to hire a lawyer. Mr. Rubenstein said: "Denise Rich is happy for her children that her ex-husband has been pardoned. Of course, she supported his application."

Mr. Rich's lawyers were able to call in favors from many high-level executives and officials in Israel who had crossed paths with Mr. Rich. "Marc Rich has been one of our most important private individuals involved in the leading issues of our times," said Yaakov Neeman, Israel's finance minister, in a letter dated Nov. 29.

Shabtai Shavit, the head of Israel's intelligence arm, Mossad, from 1989 to 1996, and now a businessman, wrote a letter dated Nov. 28 in support of the application. "As head of Mossad," he wrote, "we requested his assistance in looking for M.I.A.'s and help in the rescue and evacuation of Jews from enemy countries."

Many of the letters attesting to his years of good works were faxed to the attention of Avner Azulay at the Rich Foundation in Tel Aviv.

For instance, Israel's Philharmonic "has been privileged to enjoy a close and special friendship with the Rich Foundation," wrote Zubin Mehta on Nov. 20.

No kindness was too small to recall: "Thank you again for the air-conditioner for the blind couple," wrote Shlomo Lahat, the former mayor of Tel Aviv, on Nov. 26.

Some letter writers could not resist including some dismay about gifts not made. Jonathan Halevy, the director-general of Shaare Zedek Hospital, acknowledged the gifts his organization received from 1981 to 1994 but could not resist adding, "The hospital has regretfully received no further support from the foundation since 1994."

  • See Also: The Clemency Page