That’s Rich

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

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New York

Lest there be some of you that missed it, a lifelong dirty dealer is walking around us free as a bird, and there’s nothing any of us who don’t flout the law can do about it. Let’s start the new year right and not be beastly to Mr Marc Rich. He is the man who was pardoned by Bill Clinton on the last day of the Draft Dodger’s presidency. (Rich was indicted on tax-evasion and other crimes but had fled the United States and was living in Switzerland as a very rich fugitive.) When the Clinton pardon came through, all hell broke loose. It was considered too venal, too corrupt, even for the scandal-scarred presidency of Bill Clinton.

Mind you, Rich’s ex-wife Denise was very close to Clinton, contributing millions to the Democratic party and more millions to the Clinton library. A source swears that the fugitive Rich and his ex-wife dangled a multimillion dollar bribe in front of the Clintons and that it will be used for Hillary’s presidential effort in 2008. Needless to say, there is no evidence. It is, after all, hearsay and rumour.

While all this was going on, Saddam launched his campaign to woo international support through sweetheart oil deals under the UN oil-for-food programme. Who better qualified to help him beat the sanctions than Marc Rich? The New York Post recently alleged that Marc Rich was up to his neck in beating the sanctions — accusations which Marc Rich has not as yet denied as far as I am aware.

Rich’s base is Zug, Switzerland, where he has made himself popular with the denizens by contributing to local charities. Nothing very difficult about that. It is a well-known fact that, when a Swiss is held up at gunpoint and challenged to give up their money or their life, 97 per cent of those challenged need lotsa time to decide. Rich is also popular in St Moritz, where he winters. The only thing I’m grateful for is that he chose St Moritz rather than Gstaad. (I’m afraid he’d be just as popular over here, too.)

If the charges are true, it was elementary. Saddam allocated 4.4 billion barrels of oil to friendly politicians and businessmen to help him beat the sanctions. UN officials were said to have looked the other way. Oil allocations were granted in the form of vouchers, which gave recipients a contract to buy Iraqi oil at a discount and sell it on the open market at a 50-cents-a-barrel profit. It was like printing money, but safer.

I once had the bad luck to dine next to Denise Rich, the one who did all the negotiations with Clinton. I immediately raised the question — this was long before the current scandal — but she refused to talk about it. ‘No politics, no politics,’ she kept repeating. Mind you, she could not have been more polite, downright nice, if vulgar. The last time I ran into Denise was in St Tropez last summer. There I was with my young son and his pretty girlfriend, and suddenly Denise pitched up in the company of a Manhattan furrier and a Bagelite socialite, Serena Boardman.

Marc Rich was born Marc Reich in that miserable little country we went to war over, 90 years ago. He fled to America in 1942. He began trading with rogue states and more or less created the ‘spot’ oil market in which middlemen purchase and resell oil. He made his fortune by dealing with Iran during the hostage crisis. He was, until pardoned, accused of failing to pay $48 million in taxes.

Marc Rich is a lucky little man. About seven or eight years ago the American Feds were set to snatch him in mid-air while on his way to Spain, the only other country except for good old Helvetia which refused to extradite him to the United States. But someone — and I have strong suspicions who that was, but libel laws prevent me from telling you — warned him off.

Rich has not set foot in America and for good reason: the latest allegations of dealing with Saddam. Nothing, of course, surprises me about Marc Rich. Nor about Bill Clinton. The Clintons were the most dishonest couple ever to occupy the White House, and we would be fools to put them back in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton got to be president of the numero uno country in the world despite all the lies. Marc Rich got to be a multibillionaire despite all the alleged wrongdoings. Someone should write a book about these two and call it Parallel Lives.