Some Israelis duped into backing Rich pardon

Judy Siegel and Herb Keinon - The Jerusalem Post - January 25, 2001

JERUSALEM - The Rich Foundation solicited letters from Israeli institutions praising the philanthropy of its American founder, exiled commodities trader Marc Rich, who was pardoned by president Bill Clinton on his last day in office, without informing them that the correspondence would be used as support for his pardon application.

The New York Times reported yesterday that "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," including former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit, former finance minister Ya'acov Neeman, former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat, Israel Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta, and several museum directors."

The letters, said the Times, were attached to a request for a pardon that was sent directly to Clinton in December by three lawyers representing Rich.

However, several Israeli figures said they were duped into joining the campaign for Rich's pardon. Rich has an apartment in Jerusalem and reportedly holds Israeli citizenship.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak's spokesman responded to the Times report that he had asked for Rich's pardon by saying the issue was raised once in a telephone conversation between Clinton and Barak.

During that conversation, spokesman Gadi Baltiansky said, Barak noted Rich's contribution to the social welfare and "national security" of the state. He refused to elaborate.

Baltiansky said that Barak, who knew of Rich, was contacted by a group of people who were lobbying leaders around the world on his behalf. Baltiansky said he did not know who was involved in the lobby.

Rich, according to the spokesman, was not a contributor to the Barak campaign.

According to Baltiansky, Rich's name came up in a conversation in which the plight of Jonathan Pollard was discussed.

He denied as "nonsense" speculation that Rich's pardon was a "bone" thrown in Israel's direction after Clinton refused to pardon Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in the US for spying for Israel.

The Times also reported that Michal Herzog, the wife of cabinet secretary Isaac Herzog, is local director of operations for Rich's foundation. Her husband is under investigation for allegedly setting up non-profit organizations to funnel cash to Barak's 1999 election campaign. Herzog denies the charges but refuses to answer police inquiries.

Michal Herzog denied any connection to the Clinton pardon.

"Neither my husband nor myself had any connection to the pardon," she told The Jerusalem Post, adding that she was just "a freelance adviser" to various social organizations, including the Rich foundation, involved in many social and philanthropic projects in Israel in the past 20 years.

Herzog said she does not know if Rich ever contributed to Barak's campaigns. She also pointed out that the Times had not tried to reach her for comment.

Rich, 65, and his former partner, Pincus Green, have lived in Europe since they fled the US during an investigation into their oil-trading activities that led to a 1983 indictment on 51 counts of tax evasion, racketeering, and violating sanctions against trading with Iran - allegedly the largest tax-evasion scheme in US history.

Neither man is now an American citizen, and Rich fought extradition from Switzerland. He never came home, and never faced trial. He continued to make millions and give millions to charity, the Times wrote, and his application did not express any contrition for his actions. The pardons granted to both men erased the charges and allowed them to return to the US.

The Tel Aviv office of the Swiss-based philanthropy, which last year integrated itself with the Doron Foundation (also controlled by Rich), said it had asked Israeli funding recipients for the letters of appreciation "to produce a book of appreciation in honor of Marc Rich, whose foundations have donated some $100 million over the past two decades, 80 percent of it to good causes in Israel."

Avner Azoulay, managing director of the Rich Foundation in Tel Aviv, maintained that he saw "no need" to ask permission, as the letters "are my property. We sent over 100 letters to the White House, some of which were addressed to me and contained appreciation of Marc Rich's philanthropy, and others addressed directly to Clinton."

The Times also cited a letter from Prof. Jonathan Halevy, director-general of Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Hospital, who "acknowledged the gifts his organization received from 1981 to 1994."

Azoulay, who has headed the Tel Aviv arm of the foundation for six years, said it had given the hospital about $1.2 million.

A spokeswoman for Halevy, who learned yesterday from the Post that his letter was used to request the pardon, said: "In November, Shaare Zedek received a request by phone from a person who said she was from the Doron Foundation and asked that we contribute a letter for a book of appreciation about Rich. The foundation had given us funding for maintenance of our neonatal intensive care unit, and we sent a letter. The caller, who did not send a written request, asked us to use specific wording, but we did not agree. We often get requests from donors to write a letter stating that they have given us money, so we didn't think it unusual. But we had no idea it would be used for getting a pardon."

Azoulay insisted that the Rich Foundation has never donated any money to political causes. "This is forbidden by Swiss law. We give to hospitals, educational institutions, women's organizations, cultural institutions, and so on."

The book of appreciation to Rich has not yet been published, he concluded, but it "will appear soon."

Lahat expressed his pleasure that Rich was pardoned. "I congratulated Marc Rich when I heard that he was pardoned by Clinton," he said. "I know him personally, and many good things were donated to Israel by Marc Rich. We have a cinematheque donated by Marc Rich, a hospital wing donated by Marc Rich... so I think that a person of his generosity deserved to be pardoned, and I think it was a good and generous act on Clinton's part.

"I gave my name to a letter which spoke very highly about Marc and about his personality. I don't know if this letter was given to Clinton or not, but if they have done it, I would not be against that - quite the contrary, I would be very pleased."

(Jonathan Krashinsky and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.)

  • See Also: The Clemency Page