Israel's Role In Pardon Questioned

AP - February 19, 2001

JERUSALEM - Jewish leaders from the United States on Monday questioned lobbying efforts by senior Israeli officials to win a pardon for fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Pressing for the Rich pardon may have hurt convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard's chances for clemency, said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an advocacy group.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the former chief of the Mossad spy agency, Shabtai Shavit, were among top Israeli officials who pushed former President Clinton to pardon Rich. Clinton later cited the Israeli support as part of the reason he pardoned Rich on his last day in office.

Rich fled to Switzerland in 1983 after being indicted in the United States on charges of fraud, engaging in illegal oil deals with Iran and evading more than $48 million in taxes.

Over the past 20 years, he contributed up to $80 million to Israeli hospitals, museums, symphonies and to the absorption of immigrants, and had a role in helping Israel get Jews out of Ethiopia and Yemen.

"I believe that the Rich pardon is a legal question and should not be mixed up with foreign policy questions," cosmetics magnate Ron Lauder - chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations - told reporters in Jerusalem.

"I think that what's unfortunate is that what we have seen happen is that Israel is thrust in the middle of what is seen in America as a very negative issue," said Hoenlein. "It is perceived as corrupt with the investigations that are ongoing."

He also questioned whether "Pollard paid the price for Marc Rich."

"Mr. Pollard obviously feels that he was the victim, that if the same pressure had been applied for him as was applied for Rich, then maybe the outcome would have been different," Hoenlein said.

Pollard, a former U.S. naval intelligence analyst, was sentenced to life in prison for providing classified documents to Israel. Israel and Jewish groups in the United States have lobbied for his release for years, but the heads of American security agencies have staunchly opposed it.

Rich, who was born in Belgium and raised in the United States, holds Israeli and Spanish citizenship. He has renounced his U.S. citizenship.

Allegations that Rich bought his pardon through his ex-wife, Denise Rich - who acknowledged making sizable contributions both to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate race and to Clinton's presidential library - prompted congressional hearings and an investigation by federal prosecutors.

See also other related articles on the clemency page including:
  • Israel's Role in Pardon Sparks Capital Feuding
  • Did Pollard Pay the Price for Rich?
  • The Rich Pardon: Bad for Pollard?
  • On Choosing Between Marc Rich and Jonathan Pollard