Two companies owned by oil trader Marc Rich pleaded guilty to tax evasion in New York federal court yesterday and paid $200 million in back taxes, fines and foregone tax deductions, the largest amount ever recovered in a criminal tax evasion case.
The controversial case caused a legal standoff between U.S. prosecutors, who demanded access to documents held in Rich's Swiss headquarters, and the Swiss government, which seized the documents rather than let them be turned over to the United States.
Marc Rich & Co. A.G., the parent company, paid a $50,000-a-day contempt-of-court fine to the U.S. government for more than a year because it had not handed over the documents sought by a grand jury.
Not only did Switzerland seize some documents sought by a federal grand jury, it also refused to extradite Marc Rich and his associate, Pincus Green, who also were charged by the U.S. government.
Rich, 50, renounced his U.S. citizenship and became a Spanish citizen last year. He lives in Zug, Switzerland, where his large commodities trading company is based.
Yesterday's settlement involved only the trading company and its New York subsidiary, Clarendon Ltd. Rich and Green remain under indictment, according to Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Giuliani said Marc Rich & Co. and Clarendon paid the government $150 million in fines, back taxes and interest. The companies also agreed not to take the interest charges as deductions on future tax returns, which Giuliani estimated added between $24 million and $40 million to the value of the settlement. Coupled with the more than $21 million in fines paid in the contempt-of-court citation, the total value of the settlement will reach about $200 million, Giuliani said.
In return, the U.S. government lifted a freeze placed on all of the Rich companies' assets and removed all other restrictions on the companies' ability to do business in the United States.
As soon as the freeze on assets was lifted, another Rich company, Richco, sold its 50 percent interest in 20th Century Fox, the big film production company, to his partner in the company, oil magnate Marvin Davis. Neither Rich nor Davis would reveal the price, but New York sources said it included $116 million in cash and other financial considerations that could have pushed the sale price to more than $200 million.
In a statement, Marc Rich & Co. said the ability to carry on its worldwide trading activities in the United States and to maintain the financial strength of both companies "is the primary goal of the settlement, justifying the large payment, even though a lengthy trial probably would have resulted in a considerably smaller amount."
The settlement covered income tax evasion charges against Rich & Co., and satisfied Department of Energy charges that Rich companies evaded profit limitations on the sale of crude oil during the energy crisis of the late 1970s.
A grand jury indicted Rich & Co. a year ago for evading U.S. taxes in 1980 and 1981 by shifting profits from its U.S. subsidiary -- then called Marc Rich & Co. International Ltd. -- to the parent company in Switzerland, where taxes are lower. The U.S. subsidiary allegedy shifted the profits by selling oil at a loss to the Swiss parent.
The New York subsidiary handed over the documents sought by the grand jury, but the parent refused for nearly a year, contending that to do so would violate Swiss secrecy laws. Sources said that the grand jury needed the Swiss documents to prove that trading between the U.S. subsidiary and the parent was designed to generate losses.
The parent company paid a $50,000-a-day fine for several months, then announced it would comply with the grand jury subpoena. Shortly after the announcement, in late August 1983, the Swiss government seized the documents. U.S. prosecutors charged that the seizure was a sham and that Rich announced its willingness to comply only after it knew Swiss authorities would grab the records.
The U.S. courts continued the fine -- which would mount to more than $21 million before it was lifted Sept. 13 -- even though Rich & Co. claimed it could not comply with the subpoena because the Swiss government had the documents.
The Belgian-born Rich, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen, formed his own worldwide trading firm a decade ago. He lived in New York, but quietly left in June 1983. The New York subsidiary then told the courts that it had been sold by the Swiss parent and changed its name to Clarendon.
Prosecutors claimed that the sale -- to Rich associates -- was a sham, and yesterday a spokesman for Rich said that Clarendon is considered a part of the Rich group of companies.