In announcing the death of 78-year-old international oil trader Marc Rich (shown in photo), commentators around the world nearly ran out of descriptors, calling him “friend,” “pioneer,” “colorful,” “great,” “controversial,” a “buccaneer,” the “King of Oil,” and the “King of Commodities.” Others weren't so kind, calling him a “traitor,” a “tax evader,” and a “racketeer.”
His impact as a trader in the world commodity market was profound. He learned to trade oil and other commodities at the age of 20 at Phillip Brothers (now called Phibro) where he met his future partner, Pincus “Pinky” Green. After a disagreement over the amount of bonuses they were owed, Rich and Green left Phibro and started their own company, Marc Rich and Company AG, in 1974, just in time to recognize and profit from the 1973 oil embargo. By being quick on their feet and taking advantage of contacts at the highest levels of governments worldwide, Rich was able to match needs with demands and take a commission in the process.
Following the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, for instance, Rich was able to deliver oil from Iran and the Soviet Union to the apartheid regime in South Africa in exchange for uranium from Namibia, which was sold back to the USSR. As the Wall Street Journal noted: “Over two decades … Mr. Rich’s involvement in the firm … grew [it] into a global trading and mining giant.” That modest assessment missed the impact of Rich and Green. His company was sold to its management in 1994 and then merged with another commodity trading firm, Xstrata, and last year the combined companies did $214 billion in business, and employed 140,000 people worldwide.
Rich gained national attention when his trading activities caught the eye of the new U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Rudolph Giuliani, who, after investigating Rich’s activities, secured more than 50 indictments against him for fraud, racketeering, and tax evasion in September 1983. The next year, after failing to persuade Giuliani that he was innocent, Rich fled to Switzerland, where he lived out the rest of his life. On his own website, Rich defended himself:
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