Billionaire Marc Rich, who invented oil trading and was pardoned by President Bill Clinton over tax evasion, racketeering and busting sanctions with Iran, died on Wednesday in Switzerland aged 78.
Rich fled the Holocaust with his parents for America to become the most successful and controversial trader of his time and a fugitive from US justice, enjoying decades of comfortable privacy at his sprawling Villa Rosa on Lake Lucerne.
Belgian-born Rich, whose trading group eventually became the global commodities powerhouse Glencore Xstrata, died in hospital from a stroke, spokesman Christian Koenig said.
At the cream-painted, red-roofed villa, with views of the nearby mountains and grounds sloping down to the banks of the lake, security guards and other staff could be seen but there was no sign of family members.
"He will be brought to Israel for burial," Avner Azulay, managing director of the Marc Rich Foundation, said by telephone. Rich will be buried on Thursday at Kibbutz Einat cemetery near Tel Aviv.
Many of the biggest players in oil and metals trading trace their roots back to the swashbuckling Rich, whose triumph in the 1970s was to pioneer a spot market for crude oil, wresting business away from the world's big oil groups.
To his critics, he was a white-collar criminal, a serial sanctions breaker, whom they accused of building a fortune trading with revolutionary Iran, Muammar Gaddafi's Libya, apartheid-era South Africa, Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania, Fidel Castro's Cuba and Augusto Pinochet's Chile.
In interviews with journalist Daniel Ammann for his biography, "The King of Oil", the normally obsessively secretive Rich admitted to bribing officials in countries such as Nigeria and to assisting the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.
Explaining Rich's route to riches in an interview with Reuters in 2010, Ammann said: "He was faster and more aggressive than his competitors. He was able to recognise trends and seize opportunities before other traders. And he went where others feared to tread - geographically and morally."
A US government web site once described Rich more simply, as "a white male, 177 centimeters in height ... wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Customs Service and the US Marshall Service." In 1983, he was on the FBI's 10 most wanted list indicted for tax evasion, fraud and racketeering. At the time, it was the biggest tax evasion case in US history.
Trust, loyalty and secrecy
Rich, who valued trust, loyalty, secrecy and persistence, always insisted he did nothing illegal and among those who lobbied Clinton on his behalf for his pardon were Israeli political heavyweights Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres.
On learning of the indictment plans, Rich fled to Switzerland to escape the charges, which included exploiting the U.S. embargo against Iran, while it was holding US hostages, to make huge profits on illicit Iranian oil sales.
"Marc Rich is to asset concealment what Babe Ruth was to baseball," said Arthur J. Roth, New York state commissioner of taxation and finance.
He remained under threat of a life sentence in a U.S. jail until Clinton pardoned him during the last chaotic days of his presidency, a move that provoked moral outrage and bewilderment amongst some politicians.
Clinton later said he regretted granting the pardon, calling it "terrible politics."
"It wasn't worth the damage to my reputation," he told Newsweek magazine in 2002.
Rudolph Giuliani, a former New York mayor and a prosecutor on the Rich case, said: