Marc Rich's Road to Riches

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Apparently tipped off to the oil-shuffling scheme by Texas traders, the FBI began looking into Marc Rich's dealings in late 1981. As the case progressed, two key officials emerged: Federal Judge Leonard Sand, an imposing, white-bearded figure who has repeatedly been outraged at Rich's maneuvers, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris Weinberg Jr., who leads a prosecuting team comprising agents of the FBI, Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service and Customs Service.

In April 1982, Rich refused to comply with a grand jury's request for documents from his headquarters, arguing that as a Swiss company, the firm was immune to the order. After more than a year of endless motions and appeals, Judge Sand retaliated in late June by ordering Rich to pay a $50,000-a-day contempt fine. Before payments were suspended two weeks ago, Rich's company had paid $3.8 million in fines. In an apparent ploy to escape further fines, Rich and Green in early August secretly sold their U.S. subsidiary to other officers in the firm and changed its name to Clarendon Ltd.

When the sale became known, a furious Judge Sand threatened to freeze $55 million worth of the company's assets in the U.S. Rich then promised to deliver the contested documents. But only three days later, U.S. Customs officers, apparently acting on a tip from a mole inside the Marc Rich subsidiary, stopped a Swissair jet just as it was taxiing to take off from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport for Zurich. Aboard the plane were two steamer trunks full of Rich's documents.

The Rich case has been complicated by an ongoing struggle between U.S. courts and Switzerland. Judge Sand has insisted that the courts had the right to Rich's documents, but Swiss officials said that they were protected by that country's famed business-secrecy laws. After the U.S. attempted to get the Rich documents, Swiss officials seized many papers at Rich's headquarters in Zug to keep them from the Americans. Justice Department attorneys claim that the documents contain "golden nuggets" that would enable them to prove twice as much tax evasion as is currently charged. The Swiss have yet to decide whether they will extradite Rich and Green.

Even if they cannot get Rich and Green, U.S. attorneys plan to prosecute Rich's Swiss and U.S. companies and one of Rich's associates in the Listo scheme, Clyde Meltzer, 38, of New York City. Meltzer is expected to appear in court for arraignment this week.

For the time being, Rich and Green apparently remain in the corporate-tax-haven canton of Zug. Rich's company is well known there for its blue-tinted, steel-and-glass structure, which has been nicknamed "the Dallas building" after the American TV show. Zug's business community, which resents U.S. meddling, has shown some sympathy for Rich.

U.S. commodities traders, on the other hand, are less understanding. Some believe the Rich episode may arouse popular support for more Government scrutiny of their industry. Says Stefan Eliel, vice president of Associated Metals & Minerals: "Most of the commodities merchants in the U.S. were traditionally looked upon as something close to shysters. Marc Rich has already been a serious setback to us all, particularly as that image had improved."

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