Marc Rich
Marc Rich Photo by AP
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Marc Rich, a Jewish philanthropist who was the father of modern oil trading and founder of the group that became Glencore Xstrata, has died at the age of 78, the head of his foundation said on Wednesday.

Many of the biggest players in oil and metals trading trace their roots back to Rich, whose triumph in the 1960s and 70s was to create a spot market for oil, wresting business away from the world's big oil companies.

Rich, however, was also a controversial figure. He was forced to flee the United States for Switzerland in 1983 after allegedly taking advantage of the 1980 U.S. embargo against Iran to make huge profits in illicit Iranian oil sale.

Until 2001, Mark Rich was a relatively obscure businessman. He was also suspected of serious tax offenses in the U.S., which had banned him from entering the country. On the last day of his term, U.S. President Bill Clinton granted him a pardon.

Working behind the scenes on behalf of Rich were then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and other senior figures, such as Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres, Ron Huldai and Yaakov Neeman.

Barak's efforts to secure Rich's pardon – which were harshly criticized – took place against the backdrop of the businessman's many previous donations to Israel. Over the years, Mark Rich has donated around $150 million to institutions such as the Israel Museum, Tel Aviv Museum, research centers and theaters.

"Marc Rich passed away this morning at his home in Lucerne. He will be brought to Israel for burial," Avner Azulay, managing director of Marc Rich Foundation, said by telephone.The Belgian-born son of Jewish refugees, Rich began his career with one of the biggest trading houses of the time, Philipp Brothers, subsequently Phibro, aged 20. He left in 1974 with a fellow graduate of the Phibro mailroom, Pincus "Pinky" Green, to set up Marc Rich and Co AG in Switzerland.

That group would eventually become Glencore. "We are saddened to hear of the death of Marc," Glencore Xstrata Chief Executive Ivan Glasenberg said. "He was a friend and one of the great pioneers of the commodities trading industry, founding the company that became Glencore."