The spotlight is once again shining on Marc Rich. This time, Rich is represented by former Clinton counsel Jack Quinn, while Republicans Dan Burton and Arlen Specter are leading the charge, raising questions about trading with the enemy, tax evasion and influence-peddling. Just nine years ago, similar questions were raised in hearings before the Committee on Government Operations in the Democrat-controlled Congress. Back then Republicans kept silent; Rich was represented by former Nixon attorney Leonard Garment and William Bradford Reynolds, assistant attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department. The committee was investigating how Rich, America's most-wanted white-collar criminal, received more than $65 million in government grain-export subsidies, which he used to sell wheat and barley at enormous profit overseas, and how he had captured a lucrative deal to sell more than $20 million in nickel, zinc and copper to the US Mint.
Until we began research for our book Ravenswood: The Steelworkers' Victory and the Revival of American Labor, we, like most Americans, had never heard of Marc Rich. In 1990, 1,700 aluminum workers, locked out of their plant in a small town in West Virginia, discovered that their company was ultimately controlled by the elusive Rich. Over the next two years, their union, the United Steelworkers of America, mounted an ambitious strategic campaign [see David Corn, "The Union and the Billionaire," February 24, 1992]. The Steelworkers' investigations, which led to the hearings, revealed the vastness of Rich's holdings. It was said that Rich owned "49 percent of the world"–from oil tankers to zinc mines to aluminum smelters to luxury hotels. Despite having a controlling interest in almost every metal and agricultural commodity on the world market, there was very little that Rich owned outright. This arrangement enabled him to establish profitable relationships with businesses and governments that might otherwise have been squeamish about associating with him.
The Steelworkers were also shocked to discover that the Justice Department was not actively pursuing his case. The union quickly got a taste of Rich's ruthlessness. Early in the campaign, the local and national union leaders received a series of death threats, delivered by phone and in person, saying, "You'd better stop or you're going to get hurt…. You don't know who you're up against."
By tracking Marc Rich drawing public attention to his dealings around the world, the union interfered with his ability to do what he did best–trade, invest and make deals behind closed doors. It prevented him from purchasing smelters in Czechoslovakia and Venezuela and a luxury hotel in Romania and from returning to the United States to visit his family. The Steelworkers not only won a victory for their members in West Virginia–they, unlike most others, held Rich accountable for his actions.
Rich engineered his pardon from President Clinton in the same way he has managed his business empire–in the shadows, just below the radar of law enforcement, the media and the public, and buttressed by the best lawyers that money can buy. Yet the pardon should in no way absolve him of his crimes. The battle will likely move to civil court and to the IRS. But it's also important for civil and political leaders to take a firm stand against Rich. When he first fled to Switzerland, he bought himself respectability through his philanthropic efforts. Now that he's returning home, the philanthropic community–as well as public officials, government agencies and political parties–should refuse Rich's money until he has made appropriate reparations to the government and until we can be sure that the money he offers has been acquired through legitimate means. His millions may have bought his pardon, but they should not buy him redemption or shield him from public scrutiny.