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Controversial Glencore founder Marc Rich dies at 78

The headquarters of Swiss commodities giant Glencore in Baar, Switzerland pictured on March 3, 2010
The headquarters of Swiss commodities giant Glencore in Baar, Switzerland pictured on March 3, 2010. The controversial founder of Glencore, Marc Rich, who was pardoned by President Bill Clinton on his last day in office for tax evasion, has died at the ag

The controversial founder of Swiss commodities giant Glencore, Marc Rich, who was pardoned by President Bill Clinton on his last day in office for tax evasion, has died at the age of 78, his company said on Wednesday.

The international businessman died of a brain stroke at Lucerne in central Switzerland, the Marc Rich Group said in a statement.

Rich was a fugitive from US justice for nearly two decades after his indictment for tax evasion and illegal trading with Iran until Clinton wiped his slate clean in 2001.

"He is survived by his daughters Ilona Schachter-Rich and Danielle Kilstock Rich with their families," the statement added, without providing further details.

Citing family sources, Swiss Radio 1 meanwhile reported that Rich, who was Jewish, would be given a funeral in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

Rich was born in Belgium in 1934, but his Jewish family left first for France and then for the United States in 1941 to flee the spreading Nazism in Europe.

In 1954, he joined US trading firm Philipp Brothers as an apprentice and quickly worked his way up the group, according to a profile on the website of his eponymous foundation.

He was soon groomed to take over as president of the US firm, but in 1974, he decided instead to launch a company based in Switzerland's canton Zug with a former colleague Pincus Green as well as several other traders.

From a small start-up, the company grew into a key player in the sector over decades.

Rich, together with his partners, managed to "break through the cartel of major groups that dominated the petrol market, from the wells to the petrol pumps," Daniel Ammann, his biographer and a Swiss journalist, told AFP a few years ago.

This success brought Rich a fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine at $1 billion (766 million euros) today, although not without controversy.

Rich's business tradings with Iran, Cuba and apartheid South Africa had brought the wrath of US justice down on him. Accused of evading taxes of nearly $50 million, as well as illegal trade with Iran, Rich was forced to flee to Switzerland in 1983.

His foundation stresses that he never admitted the accusations.

Rich was on the FBI's wanted list until he was controversially granted a pardon by Bill Clinton on the last day of his presidency in January 2001, in a move that created uproar, since Rich's ex-wife Denise was a key donor to the Democratic Party and to the Clinton library.

Clinton said later that he regretted the move, which "wasn't worth the damage to my reputation."

In 1993, Rich sold his holding in the commodity trading part of the Marc Rich Group, which was then renamed Glencore.

Now merged with a Swiss mining group into Glencore Xstrata, the group is today one of the biggest commodities companies in the world.

The head of the company Ivan Glasenberg said in a statement on Wednesday that he was saddened to hear that Rich had died.

"He was a friend and one of the great pioneers of the commodities trading industry," he said.

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