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, on 18 November 2007. The Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in suburban Tel-Aviv, Israel, honored Rich with the Sheba Humanitarian Award 2008. Former recipients of this award include actor Michael Douglas, actress Elizabeth Taylor, and former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford.
Rich was born in 1934 to a Jewish family in Antwerp, Belgium. His parents were working-class Jews who emigrated with their son to the United States in 1941 to escape the Nazis. His Father opened a jewelry store in Kansas City, Missouri, then moved the family to Queens, New York City in 1950, where he started a company that imported Bengali jute to make burlap bags, and later started a Business trading agricultural products and helped found the American Bolivian Bank. Rich attended high school at the Rhodes Preparatory School in Manhattan. He later attended New York University, but dropped out after one semester to go work for Philipp Brothers (now known as Phibro LLC) in 1954 where he worked with Pincus Green.
Rich married Denise Eisenberg, a Songwriter and heir to a New England shoe Manufacturing fortune, in 1966. They had three children, one of whom, Gabrielle Rich Aouad, died at age 27 of leukemia in 1996. The couple divorced in 1996; she continued to use the name Denise Rich. Six months later he married Gisela Rossi, although that marriage also ended in divorce, in 2005.
One of his biggest market coups came during the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo, when he used his Middle Eastern contacts to circumvent the embargo and buy crude oil from Iran and Iraq. After purchasing the crude for roughly US$12 per barrel, Rich doubled the price and sold it to supply-starved U.S. oil companies. Later, following the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Rich used his special relationship with Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution, to buy oil from Iran despite the American embargo. Iran would become Rich's most important supplier of crude oil for more than 15 years. Rich sold Iranian oil to Israel through a secret pipeline. Due to his good relationship with Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini, Rich helped give Mossad’s agents contacts in Iran.
At Philipp Brothers, he eventually became a dealer in metals, learning about the international raw materials markets and commercial trading with poor, third-world nations. He helped run the company's operations in Cuba, Bolivia, and Spain. In 1974 he and co-worker Pincus Green set up their own company in Switzerland, Marc Rich + Co. AG, which would later become Glencore Xstrata Plc. Nicknamed "the King of Oil" by his Business partners, Rich has been said to have expanded the spot market for crude oil in the early 1970s, drawing Business away from the larger established oil companies that had relied on traditional long-term contracts for Future purchases. As Andrew Hill of the Financial Times put it, "Rich’s key insight was that oil – and other raw materials – could be traded with less capital, and fewer assets, than the big oil producers thought, if backed by bank Finance. It was this highly leveraged Business model that became the template for modern traders, including Trafigura, Vitol, and Glencore...."
His real estate company, Marc Rich Real Estate GmbH, was involved in large developer projects (e.g., in Prague, Czech Republic). Rich and Marvin Davis bought 20th Century Fox in 1981. Due to the indictment filed against Rich for violating U.S. trade sanctions against his deals with Iran while Rich was living in Switzerland, Rich arranged for Davis to sell Rich's interest in 20th Century Fox to Rupert Murdoch for $250 million during March 1984.
In 1983 Rich and partner Pincus Green were indicted on 65 Criminal counts, including income tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering, and trading with Iran during the oil embargo (at a time when Iranian Revolutionaries were still holding American citizens hostage). The charges would have led to a sentence of more than 300 years in prison had Rich been convicted on all counts. The indictment was filed by then-U.S. Federal Prosecutor (and Future mayor of New York City) Rudolph Giuliani. At the time it was the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history.
In 1985, Rich helped with the compensation to the families of the victims of Israelis from Ras Burka in the Sinai. He has contributed tens of millions of dollars for the absorption of Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia, he has contributed to Project Discovery, he has founded the museum wing for Israeli and international art in the name of his daughter Gabriela, who had died, he has 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 bears his name. Rich was also an advocate for coexistence between Israelis and the Palestinians by establishing health and education programs in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as by fulfilling his commitment to making President's Conference contributions each year. Rich has also contributed to the Center for Sloan-Catherine, The Medical Research Center at Yale University, The Rabin Medical Center, and the center of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Although Rich believed that he had relinquished his United States citizenship when he became a citizen of Spain, an appeals court ruled in 1991 that, for purposes of U.S. law, Rich remained a citizen and therefore was still subject to U.S. income taxes. He also held Belgian, Bolivian, Israeli, and Spanish passports.
Trafigura Beheer BV, based in Netherlands is another corporate successor, though not ever owned or directly managed by Rich. It was created in March 1993, the name acquired from an existing company registered in Amsterdam. Its founding partners, alongside Claude Dauphine, being former Marc Rich top brass. Trafigura AG is now the main office, based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Learning of the plans for the indictment, Rich fled to Switzerland and, always insisting that he was not guilty, never returned to the U.S. to answer the charges. Rich's companies eventually pleaded guilty to 35 counts of tax evasion and paid $90 million in fines, although Rich himself remained on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Ten Most-Wanted Fugitives List for many years, narrowly evading capture in Britain, Germany, Finland, and Jamaica. Fearing arrest, he did not even return to the United States to attend his daughter's funeral in 1996.
In a February 18, 2001 op-ed essay in The New York Times, Clinton (by then out of office) explained why he had pardoned Rich, noting that U.S. tax professors Bernard Wolfman of the Harvard Law School and Martin Ginsburg of Georgetown University Law Center had concluded that no crime had been committed, and that Rich's companies' tax-reporting position had been reasonable. In the same essay, Clinton listed Lewis "Scooter" Libby as one of three "distinguished Republican lawyers" who supported a pardon for Rich. (Libby himself later received a presidential commutation and pardon for his involvement in the Plame affair.) During Congressional hearings after Rich's pardon, Libby, who had represented Rich from 1985 until the spring of 2000, denied that Rich had violated the tax laws but criticized him for trading with Iran at a time when that country was holding U.S. hostages.
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, on 18 November 2007. The Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in suburban Tel-Aviv, Israel, honored Rich with the Sheba Humanitarian Award 2008. Former recipients of this award include actor Michael Douglas, Actress Elizabeth Taylor, and former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford.
Forbes reported Rich had a net worth of US$1.0 billion as of 2010.
On November 1, 2016, the FBI released documents related to the pardon, stating it was an FOIA release.
In 5 November 2017, the Paradise Papers, a set of confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investment, revealed that Appleby had worked for Rich and Glencore on major projects in the past, even after his indictment in 1983.
Speculation about another rationale for Rich's pardon involved his alleged involvement with the Israeli intelligence community. Rich reluctantly acknowledged in interviews with his biographer, Daniel Ammann, that he had assisted the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence Service, a claim that Ammann said was confirmed by a former Israeli intelligence officer. According to Ammann, Rich had helped Finance the Mossad's operations and had supplied Israel with strategic amounts of Iranian oil through a secret oil pipeline. The aide to Rich who had persuaded Denise Rich to personally ask President Clinton to review Rich's pardon request was a former chief of the Mossad, Avner Azulay. Another former Mossad chief, Shabtai Shavit, had also urged Clinton to pardon Rich, who he said had routinely allowed intelligence agents to use his offices around the world.