Home News Crime & Punishment Marc Rich Review: Swashbuckling Oil Trader Out Of A James Bond Movie

Marc Rich Review: Swashbuckling Oil Trader Out Of A James Bond Movie

Marc Rich King of Oil
Editorial Credit: Jim Berry

Marc Rich is known as one of the great creators of wealth of our time – a commodity trader who pioneered the spot oil market and eventually amassed a fortune. He flouted many international rules and embargoes and eventually fled the U.S. in 1983 after being indicted for wire fraud and tax evasion.

He lived until the age of 78, passing away in a hospital near his home in Switzerland in June 2013. Here, we’ll take a look at his life. 

Early Life, Marriage, Career

Marc Rich was born in 1934 to a Jewish family in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1941 with a view to escape Nazi reign, his parents emigrated with him to the USA. Living in Queens in 1950, his family began making money when his father started a series of businesses, first making burlap bags and later trading agricultural products.

Rich attended school in Manhattan and Rhodes Preparatory School. He went on to attend New York University for just one semester when he decided to drop out and work for Philipp Brothers in 1954. Becoming a dealer in metals and learning much about dealing with poor, third world nations, he began running operations in places like Bolivia and Cuba.

Marc Rich and Company

By 1974 he, along with his co-worker Pincus Green, decided to set up their own company, Marc Rich + Co. AG, in Switzerland. 

It didn’t take long for Rich to be given the nickname ‘The King Of Oil’ – he is said to have expanded the spot market for crude oil in the early 1970s, managing to expertly draw business away from the larger established oil companies.

Some of Rich’s notable clients included Marxist Angola, Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Rich was not in the least bit worried about the work that he did, explaining many times that he was a businessman, not a politician. 

Marc Rich Maintained His Innocence Until The End

Marc Rich Review: Swashbuckling Oil Trader Out Of A James Bond Movie 1

By 1983, Rich and Green were indicted on 65 criminal counts. This included racketeering, tax evasion, and wire fraud. The charges would have led to a sentence of more than 300 years in prison had Rich been convicted on all counts. It was the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history at that time.

Rich fled to Switzerland as a result, maintaining his ‘not guilty’ stance, and never returned to the U.S. to answer the charges. However, Rich’s companies eventually pleaded guilty to 35 counts of tax evasion, paying out $90 million in fines.

Rich remained on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Ten Most-Wanted Fugitives List for quite some time and evaded capture in Britain, Germany, Finland, and Jamaica. Frightened by the thought of being arrested, he did not even return to the U.S for his daughter Gabriela’s funeral in 1996. 

President Clinton Granted Marc Rich a Presidential Pardon

In 2001 on January 20th, U.S. President Bill Clinton granted Rich a presidential pardon just hours before he left office. Of course, this was not without controversy, and several of the former president’s strongest supporters distanced themselves from the decision. People like Jimmy Carter made it known that they believed the pardon was due to the large gifts the Rich family had given to the democratic party.  

It transpired that Denise Rich had given more than $1 million to Clinton’s political party, including more than $100,000 to the Senate campaign of the president’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and $450,000 to the Clinton Library foundation during Clinton’s time in office. Clinton later admitted that he regretted the pardon as it had severely damaged his reputation.

There was an investigation into Clinton’s last-minute pardon of Rich, but federal investigators ultimately found no evidence of criminal activity.

As a condition of the presidential pardon, it was made clear that Rich would drop all procedural defenses against any civil actions brought against him by the United States upon his return. 


At the end of 1993, Rich lost control of his company after a disastrous attempt to corner the world zinc market. This led to a number of the Rich Boys insisting he gives up his majority stake. He did, and Marc Rich + Co was renamed Glencore, after a management buyout. 


Although on the most wanted list for many years, Rich was quite the philanthropist. Rich was a strong supporter of Israel, having donated around $150 million to institutions such as the Israel Museum, Tel Aviv Museum, research centers, theaters, as well as numerous other documented charities over the years. He also contributed to Project Discovery and founded the museum wing for Israeli and international art in the name of his daughter Gabriela, who had died from leukemia.

He contributed to the establishment of the new building of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque called “Marc Rich Israeli Cinema Center”, and the establishment of the main library at IDC Herzliya University, which now bears his name. 


In May 2007 Rich received an honorary doctorate from Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel, in recognition of his contribution to Israel and to the university’s research programs. He received the same honor from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel.

The Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in suburban Tel Aviv, Israel, honored Rich with the Sheba Humanitarian Award 2008. 

Personal Life 

Rich married Denise Eisenberg, a songwriter, and heir to a New England shoe manufacturing fortune. They had three children. They divorced in 1996, the same year his daughter Gabriela died, after 30 years together. Just 6 months later he found a new wife in Gisela Rossi. Unfortunately, this marriage also ended in divorce after 9 years in 2005. 

Later Years And Death 

In his later years, Rich moved to Meggen, a city in the Canton of Lucerne, Switzerland. His house, called “La villa rose” (the pink villa), was protected with the utmost security to ensure his privacy at all times. He also owned a ski resort in St. Moritz and had property in Marbella, Spain. Rumour has it that Rich lived surrounded by the works of Monet, Picasso, and Renoir.

Marc Rich died as the result of a stroke on June 26th, 2013, survived by his two daughters and was buried in Israel.

Shortly before his death, Rich said he still enjoyed making money.