Pardoned Fugitive En-RICH-ed Barak's 1999 Campaign

Hadar Avraham - The Jewish Press - Week of February 2, 2001

Extraordinary links have emerged between Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Marc Rich, the commodities trader lying low in Switzerland who was pardoned by Bill Clinton in one of Clinton's final acts as president.

Rich's lawyers kept their quest for a pardon under wraps by applying directly to the president in December, a step that stunned and angered a broad array of law enforcement officials and leaders of both major political parties.

The widespread outrage shows no sign of abatement, and new reports indicate that an Israeli angle to the story may soon receive greater media scrutiny.

Rich and his former partner, Pincus Green, fled to Switzerland in 1983 to avoid charges, stemming from their oil-trading activities, of conspiracy, tax evasion, racketeering and trading with the enemy in what amounted to the largest tax evasion crime in US history.

From his Swiss haven, Rich began contributing millions to charities. His donations over the past two years allegedly totaled some $200 million, with 80 percent of the funds channeled to Israel through two foundations, the Rich and the Doron, which backed the arts, culture and medical facilities in Israel. Rich's former wife, Denise, is herself a major contributor to Israeli causes.

Reportedly, Barak was among many Israelis who requested a pardon for Rich, who holds Israeli citizenship and has an apartment in Jerusalem. Barak is said to have made a personal plea on Rich's behalf in a telephone conversation with then-President Clinton.

In that exchange, according to the prime minister's spokesman, Gadi Baltianski, Barak cited Rich's contribution to the "social welfare and national security of the state," but the spokesman denied that Rich had supported Barak's political campaign.

There are also reports that Michal Herzog, the wife of Barak's top aide Yitzhak Herzog, worked for Rich's foundation in Israel. Her husband, now cabinet secretary, is himself facing an investigation into his fundraising for Barak's 1999 election campaign. (Michal Herzog has refuted all claims of connection with the pardon and would not comment on whether Rich had backed Barak's candidacy.)

The Rich Foundation is believed to have solicited many Israelis from top institutions to write letters in praise of Rich which, unbeknownst to them, were then used to support the pardon cause.

The New York Times last week described the list of Israelis as "a virtual Who's Who of Israeli society and Jewish philanthropy," mentioning former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta and former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat as among the letter-writers.

  • See Also: The Clemency Page