NS business profile: Marc Rich, Glencore's fugitive founder

Glencore's worst kept secret.

Glencore’s worst kept secret – the company’s former name was that of America’s once wealthiest fugitive. When Marc Rich & Co AG was renamed Glencore after a management buyout in 1993, its founder and namesake was already on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

Ironically, Marc Rich was not born in the US. He immigrated there in 1941 when his parents fled the war in Belgium. Instead of studying – he enrolled at New York University but dropped out – Rich started his commodities career early at Philipp Brothers (now Phibro LLC).

At Philipp Brothers, Rich pulled off his first Middle Eastern corporate coup. It was 1973, the spring before OAPEC countries imposed the oil export embargo that would wreck havoc on the world’s economies. How he predicted the embargo, and the threefold price increase that accompanied it, is uncertain, but that spring, Rich more or less pioneered a new form of commodities trading. Future trading was the norm in the crude oil market, but realising a price hike was imminent, Rich started buying and selling on the spot (immediate) market. This allowed him to sell on demand as the embargo took effect and, of course, demand and price rose catastrophically.  

Philipp Brothers were appalled, and sold most of the oil before the embargo took effect. Rich resigned and, together with partners Pincus Green and Alec Hackel, founded Marc Rich & Co AG in the laid back rural town of Zug, Switzerland. It was 1974, 20 years before Marc Rich + Co AG would be renamed Glencore, and 37 before its giant IPO.

Trading from his own company, Rich quietly ignored international sanctions. From 1979 to 1993, his company imported 50,000 tons of oil to the heavily sanctioned South African apartheid government according to the Shipping Research Bureau. Then there was Iran.

In the midst of the 1979 hostage crises, the United States banned all oil trading with Iran. Rich, however, ignored these and purchased crude through a maze of front and shell companies.

It was a crime that was only picked up in 1983 by Rudoph Giuliani, then a US Federal Prosecutor. Amid more than 51 counts of tax fraud, $48 m in tax evasion and a 300 year prison sentence, Rich fled to the hills of Zug, not to return to his Fifth Avenue apartment for many years.

Glencore, or Marc Rich + Co AG as it was then, was to remain in Rich’s hands for another 10 years. In 1990, Marc Rich & Co AG became a majority shareholder of another Swiss commodities company called Xstrata.

It was only after nearly bankrupting the company in 1993 through zinc trades that Rich was forced to sell his entire stake of the company to its management. Only then did the company drop the founder’s name, along with his notoriety, to rename itself Glencore.

Bitter at being forced out of his company, where there were already rumours of a Glencore-Xstrata merger, Rich founded another trading company called MRI Trading AG. In 2003, with a $7.5 billion turnover and 240 employees, MRI was sold to Russian Crown Resources.

Rich’s controversy reached its pinnacle when he was pardoned by the US President in 2001. President Clinton made a total of 396 pardons, but the one made to Marc Rich during his last day in office was his most notorious. It emerged only afterwards that Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, was a close friend of the Clintons. The pair had made sizable donations to the Clinton Presidential Library and the Clinton Foundation. 

Although a free man, Rich lives in Switzerland where he enjoys dabbling in the commodities market from time to time. His family office, The Marc Rich Group, guards his estimated $2.5 bn fortune, according to the global wealth consultancy, WealthInsight. This figure includes the superyacht, Lady Joy; a notorious art collection and property in St Moritz, Lucerne, Marbella, Lisbon and Moscow. Through his ‘The Rich Foundation’, he has donated large amounts to Israeli causes and, as a result, been bestowed with honorary doctorates from Bar-Ilan and Ben-Gurion Universities.

No longer a thorn in Glencore’s side, Rich still maintains opinions in the deal that set last week’s headlines: "It is not necessary, because Glencore dominates Xstrata anyway thanks to a large minority stake....The larger a company is, the more market power, it has controlled and thus easier to pricing. In the end, this means higher profits." Rich told the Swiss magazine, Bilanz.

Not that Rich’s opinion counts anymore. No longer a shareholder in either Glencore or Xstrata, he is rarely credited with paving the way for what could be the largest corporate merger in history. As each company comes under scrutiny ahead of the deal, they probably want to forget their match made in lawlessness.

House Hearing on President Clinton's Pardon of Marc Rich. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

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Gang of Four’s David Owen says Labour should “proudly and coherently” work with the SNP

The former Labour politician and SDP co-founder tells his old party to “face up to reality” and agree to ally with the SNP.

We don’t have an effective opposition. The question is how to make it effective. I think they should start to discuss with a view to deciding at a conference this summer on its policies. It’s just got to stop for a moment, have a pause on personalities. They’re going to have to return to personalities, they have to have a new leader. But at the moment, the issue should be: let’s get the policies right. I’m sure there are areas in which people want to see changes, but they’re obviously completely incoherent over Europe, so just let that incoherence lie.

If Labour party MPs can’t start to talk about why young people were attracted to Jeremy Corbyn, they won't find the solution. Corbyn – you can trash him like the right-wing press do every day, but they've always done that with every form of Labour leader we've ever had. I’m not defending Corbyn, I don’t think he is the right person to be leader of the Labour party and become Prime Minister.

They've got to widen their base, and they've got to widen it in an election. That doesn't stop the party having more values. The Labour party instinctively, like the country, needs to move a bit more to the left. I'm not afraid of talking more about socialism and social values. I think that would be matching the mood of the country.

Clement Attlee and the Labour party came in in 1945, and shocked everybody, including all the pundits and newspapers – they responded to a mood in the country that wanted a difference. I believe there is a mood in the country that wants a difference. They don’t want recycled Blairism.

You’ve just got to face up to reality. The fundamental thing is, where we slipped up in [the last] election, is that we were not able to answer the question – when they were ravaged and savaged about the SNP – Ed Miliband should've lost his cool. All he said during the attack about working with the SNP was that it ain't going to happen. Well, it obviously was going to happen.

What they needed to say is proudly and completely coherently: if the electorate send a Parliament back which has the SNP in substantial numbers, it is perfectly legitimate for the Labour party to work with them. Health policy – a pretty good step would be to take what’s happening in Scotland and more or less mirror it.

That is the nature of the beast, which is democracy. Even without changing the system of voting, we now have multi-parties, whether we like it or not. We were told the route through was not to create a Social Democratic Party alongside the Liberals, you had to merge with them and that there was no room for more than three political parties in Britain. Well, it’s absolute nonsense. We now have seven, you could argue. We have to live with that reality. You have to be ready to talk to them. You won’t agree with them on separation but you can agree on many other areas, or you certainly should be trying.

I think it’s asking a hell of a lot to be leader of a party, asking to be Prime Minister, when you've never performed yourself in government, you've never held a serious job anywhere else. It's a very, very big thing. He didn't want to be leader of the party, he didn't expect to be leader of the party, he stood on the basis that he was the person they all turned to on the left, and he did it, and he surprised us all. The fact that he won should be a serious message to us. The reason he won is because everybody was totally sick and fed up with the other people. We've got to face up to the fact that this has happened now twice. Is the Labour party going to go on churning out a sort of mollified form of Blairism?

David Owen is an independent social democratic peer and co-founder of the SDP.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

Lord Owen was Foreign Secretary 1977-79, a founder-member of the SDP and is now a crossbench peer.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition