MARC RICH, WHO DIED IN 2013, was a high-flying commodities trader. He not only founded and built the company that became Glencore, but in so doing turned commodity trading into a James-Bondian corporate shell game involving predatory greed, international intrigue, and global profit grabbing.
Rich lived up to his name primarily as an outlaw oil trader. Born in Belgium but living in the US, he cut megadeals with dictators, pariah states, and politically unstable nations, often using shell companies to capture markets and move the product through shadows of deceit, secrecy, and outright lies. In 1974, he set up Marc Rich & Co. in Baar, Switzerland, a haven for stealth corporate operators.
Rich earned the nickname “El Matador” for his flamboyant risk-taking on the fringes of legal trading, including: pocketing some $2 billion from peddling Soviet oil to apartheid South Africa from 1979 to 1994, in violation of a UN embargo; defying America’s ban on trade with Cuba by exchanging Soviet oil for Cuban sugar; ignoring another embargo by using a secret pipeline to sell Iranian oil during the American hostage crisis; and paying a million-dollar bribe to Nigeria’s transport minister. For these crimes and more, Rich made the FBI’s most-wanted list in 1983 and fled to Switzerland with his family to escape more than 60 federal charges.
Thereafter, the multinational hustler lived in globe-hopping luxury as a citizen of Israel, Spain, and Switzerland. In 1994, Rich cashed out, selling his world-trading bazaar to its top managers, who renamed it Glencore. Among them was a particularly attentive protege who’d played key roles in Rich’s corporation, learning how a modern multinational commodities empire can work at the borders of morality and the law: Ivan Glasenberg, the present CEO of Glencore.
No doubt Ivan also learned another lesson from Maestro Marc–the art of strategically placed political donations. You might recall that Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, gained 15 seconds of notoriety in the 1990s as a $1-million-plus contributor to Democratic Party campaigns and as a $450,000 donor to Bill Clinton’s presidential library. Rather than prompting a modest prize like an overnight stay in the Lincoln bedroom, the donations bought Marc a presidential pardon, delivered by Bill on his last day in the White House. Clinton later called his smarmy quid pro quo “terrible politics,” apparently not comprehending that it’s even worse morality. For Marc, though, it was just another trade, doing business the Rich way.