Investigators from the U.S. Attorney’s office have been poring through dusty records stashed in a New York court storeroom, looking for clues as to whether Marc Rich, the onetime fugitive financier, used his former wife, the songwriter Denise Rich, to pass political contributions to Bill and Hillary Clinton in exchange for a January pardon. All sides deny any wrongdoing.
At the heart of the investigators’ search is a 1993 New York lawsuit, filed by Denise Rich against her ex-husband, whom she accused of defrauding her, as well as the children’s trusts. As confusing as the case is, it raises the question of Denise’s role in Marc’s business: Does she still have a financial stake in Marc’s companies, the same ones that were accused of tax evasion in the early ’80s?
Denise herself admits in the court filings that in the early ’90s she got lost in the “dizzying corporate network” of her husband’s business dealings. Nonetheless, the picture that emerges from the documents is that of an angry and feisty former wife who had herself been a knowledgeable stockholder, beneficiary, and player inside the Rich empire. It’s hardly the cheery picture of songwriter Denise—the pizza-loving girl next door who’d rather hang out with Natalie Cole and write pop songs.
In the years after he married Denise in the early 1960s, Marc Rich enjoyed a meteoric rise in the commodities industry. By the 1990s, Marc Rich & Co. Holding AG, based in Zug, Switzerland, had become—as Denise would later say in an affidavit—a “global multifaceted company that, among other activities, trades in such commodities as aluminum, oil, grain, zinc, nickel and others too numerous to list.”
In 1983, Rich and two of his key companies were indicted on 51 financial charges, including tax evasion. Rich fled the U.S. and lived for a time with Denise and kids in Switzerland before the marriage crumbled and the two parents tangled in a bitter divorce, the details of which have been sealed.
Ten years after Marc’s first trouble with the law, Denise emerged in a civil action filed in New York Supreme Court, bitterly accusing her former husband of manipulating and defrauding her in certain stock transactions. She sought $120 million in damages, claiming the family trusts were depleted by Rich and his associates.
But in doing so, she left a trail of clues about her involvement in her ex’s enterprises. In an affidavit dated February 1993, Denise Rich states, “Until 1990, I was a shareholder of MRCH,” adding parenthetically, “and I still maintain an interest in the company.”
The same court documents include a draft letter prepared by Denise’s then attorneys stating that in 1990 she owned 13.91 percent of Marc Rich & Co. Holding AG, shares she apparently sold for $165 million. Additionally, the suit contains documents from advisers that suggest certain of her common holdings may have been changed into shares of preferred stock, whose value rose and fell with the fortunes of the Rich firms.
Moreover, there’s a discussion in the suit of how the Rich officials wanted to keep Denise as a part owner of one of the empire’s U.S. subsidiaries, to achieve a lower tax rate. Of course, all this was going on at a time when Rich himself was a fugitive from justice in the U.S. In the court papers, Denise charges Marc was trying to defraud the U.S. government, adding that members of Congress would be interested to know what was going on.
Denise eventually lost the suit. Reached Friday, Richard Golub, her attorney at the time, refused comment, saying, “Sorry. Not interested.” Her current attorney, Martin Pollner, termed the charges flying around Denise Rich “false rumors and false statements” and declined any comment on other matters.
John Ashcroft, Good Guy
In the face of a prison escape by a man who has threatened to kill abortion doctors, the National Abortion Federation has put clinics around the nation on alert. The nonprofit reports that despite everyone’s worst fears, Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department is working with clinics and law enforcement to carry out a statute that provides federal protection to clinics and the people going in and out of them.
This is no idle business. In late February, Justice quickly informed the clinics and Washington abortion groups that 44-year-old Clayton Lee Waagner, who had stalked abortion clinics and the people who worked in them after God told him to kill them, had fled an Illinois prison. While Waagner never killed anyone, he had a long record and was awaiting sentencing on firearms and theft convictions. He was caught on an Illinois interstate in a stolen Winnebago, and told authorities he was on his way to Seattle, where he hoped to shoot some abortion doctors.
Waagner, in a jailhouse interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year, told how he had been inspired by the Nuremberg List, an Internet site that lists names of abortion doctors and the towns where they work. He reportedly was updating the list. The anti-abortion forces greeted his escape as an act of God. Said the Army of God’s Reverend Donald Spitz: “I do believe God opened the door for Clayton to escape DeWitt County jail to finish what He gave Clayton to do.”
President Bush was on a roll last week, partly because he is easily peeling away Southern conservative Democrats from their party ranks and building coalitions in both the Senate and House. The pump-priming prez has also been helped by the free-falling bear market, which accelerates the need for stimulating the economy via his proposed tax cut. In gathering support from both sides of the aisle, Bush has reduced the House Dems to sideline carpers, while shoring up the Republicans’ narrow edge.
In the House tax vote on Thursday, the Bush forces easily beat the Democrats on the House floor 230 to 198. While Minority Leader Tom Daschle promises a fight in the Senate, Bush appears to have won the support of Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia, and is working on John Breaux and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Ergonomics is another area where you can see the Democratic split. Clinton’s November rule making aimed at improving conditions in the New Economy computer workplace by providing education for workers, paying them more when they become disabled, and requiring business to redesign the workplace. Forty-five million people are affected here, with 1.8 million workers believed to be suffering from ergonomic injuries.
After a swift round of voting on Capitol Hill, the rules disappeared without a trace. The coalition that dumped ergonomics consists of Republicans voting in a bloc along with Southern conservative Dems. The Senate vote was 56 to 44, another sign of Bush’s easy majority. Landrieu and Breaux—conservatives who are gung-ho for Bush on energy issues—again joined the Republicans. So did Max Baucus from Montana, Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Bush also drew on Georgia’s Miller, who weeks before provided him with a crucial vote in the Ashcroft confirmation hearings.
Last week Bush launched his second offensive, rewriting the Medicare program. Here it’s payback time, and the president is pushing John Breaux’s proposal for reorganizing the system. At base, this plan is the Heritage Foundation’s scheme to replicate the federal employee health service plan on a national basis.
Bush told congressional leaders he wants to refinance Medicare so seniors can join a private health plan, with Medicare paying part of the cost. Senior benefits would stay the same, and Medicare would help pay for drugs on a sliding scale, with the poor paying nothing. Unlike the Clintons’ tortured manipulations, this plan is politically doable.
Lie, Cheat, Steal
From a survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, asking teens about their behavior during the preceding 12 months.
• Percentage of high schoolers who say they lied to teachers: 92
• Percent of high schoolers who say they lied to parents: 78
• Percent of high schoolers who say they cheated on an exam: 71
• Percent of high schoolers who say they hit someone in anger: 68
• Percent of high schoolers who say they have stolen from a store: 35
• Percent of high schoolers who say they have been drunk at school: 15
Additional reporting: Adam Gray and Rouven Gueissaz