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The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"His [Rich] former wife has acted as a major contributor to the Democratic Party"
 real 56k

The BBC's Paul Reynolds
"It's going to be very difficult to make a prosecution out of this"
 real 56k

Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 10:54 GMT
Clinton comes out fighting
Bill Clinton in Harlem
Clinton continues to be the centre of attention
The former US President, Bill Clinton, has strongly defended his decision to pardon a fugitive businessman charged with multi-million-dollar tax evasion.

Mr Clinton's comments followed the launch of a criminal investigation into the pardon, which was made on 20 January, his last day in office.

"As I have said repeatedly, I made the decision to pardon Marc Rich based on what I thought was the right thing to do," Mr Clinton said.

Marc Rich
Marc Rich: Accused of tax evasion, fraud and illegal oil deals with Iran

"Any suggestion that improper factors, including fundraising for the DNC (Democratic National Committee) or my library, had anything to do with the decision are absolutely false. I look forward to co-operating with any appropriate inquiry."

Mr Rich, one of 141 people pardoned by Mr Clinton, fled the US for Switzerland in 1983, after being indicted on charges of racketeering, tax evasion and illegal oil trading. He is accused of failing to pay more than $48m in taxes.

Investigations

The US Attorney in New York, Mary Jo White, says she will attempt to discover whether there was an illegal transfer of money to obtain the pardon.

Two congressional committees are already investigating the matter.

Ms White is expected to examine bank records, telephone records and other documents to determine whether there was anything criminal in Mr Clinton's decision to grant the pardon.

She is said to have been incensed by the pardon, about which she was not consulted - even though her office brought the initial criminal case against Mr Rich in 1983.

Donations

The businessman's former wife, Denise, was a major donor to the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's successful campaign to be elected to the US Senate.

Bill and Hillary Clinton
There has been a furore about gifts the Clintons received

Mrs Rich, who also gave at least $450,000 to the Clinton Presidential Library Fund, has refused to answer questions from a House of Representatives panel, citing her constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Meanwhile, the investment bank UBS Warburg is reported to have broken off negotiations to hire Mr Clinton for a speech.

Sources quoted by Reuters news agency said officials linked the decision to the new Clinton investigation. They are said to have been concerned that clients might object because of Mr Clinton's conduct during his eight years in the White House and after leaving office.

Late-night call

On Wednesday, a Senate Judiciary Committee heard that the White House did not inform the lawyer in charge of pardons that Mr Rich was a fugitive from US justice.

US Pardon Attorney Roger Adams, said the pardons of Mr Rich and his business associate Pincus Green "were not handled in anything approaching the normal way".

Mr Adams said he was not notified of the two pardons until he received a late-night call from the White House counsel's office, less than 12 hours before Mr Clinton left office.

"I was not told they were fugitives," said Mr Adams. "I learned that from the FBI."

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See also:

15 Feb 01 | Americas
Clinton faces criminal inquiry
15 Feb 01 | Americas
Q&A: Clinton pardon row
14 Feb 01 | Americas
Senate probes Clinton pardons
26 Jan 01 | Americas
Clinton gifts under scrutiny
20 Jan 01 | Americas
Clinton pardons 100
13 Feb 01 | Americas
Cloud follows Clinton
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