Saturday, November 23, 2002
Barak could face U.S. arrest in Marc Rich affair
By Aluf Benn
FORMER prime minister Ehud Barak could be arrested the next time he sets foot in the United States, the Israeli Embassy in Washington warned recently.
The arrest threat stems from the fact that Barak has so far failed to reply to questions posed by federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating the pardon that former president Bill Clinton granted Jewish financier Marc Rich.
But a senior government official dismissed the threat as "not serious," saying: "The likelihood of Barak being arrested in the U.S. is zilch - about the same as the likelihood of Israel arresting a former American president who visited here."
Clinton pardoned Rich, who had been living in Switzerland for the previous 17 years to avoid prosecution on charges of massive tax evasion and illegal oil deals with Iran, just before he left office in early 2001. It later emerged that several prominent people - including not only Barak, but also Rich's ex-wife, Denise, who is a major contributor to the Democratic Party and even funded Clinton's presidential library - had urged Clinton to grant the pardon. Federal prosecutors therefore opened an investigation to determine whether the pardon had involved any criminal aspects, such as bribery, and in this context, they asked permission to interrogate Barak about his involvement in the affair.
A deal was reached with the Israeli authorities whereby the prosecutors would send Barak a list of questions and he would reply in writing by October 27. However, he has not yet done so. The New York prosecutors were angered by this failure, and their anger increased when they discovered that Barak had actually been in the U.S. at about that time, attending, among other things, a joint fundraiser with Clinton for Petah Tikva's Beilinson Hospital. They therefore sent an angry letter to the Israeli embassy, warning that if the replies were not forthcoming, Barak could be arrested the next time he lands in America.
Barak's office responded that the former premier "intends to reply to all the questions, as agreed, just as he replied to all the questions posed by the congressional panel [that investigated the pardon]."
Rich has been a generous donor to Israeli cultural and educational institutions for years, and at one point he even accepted Israeli citizenship. In his letter to Clinton, Barak also said that Rich had assisted Mossad operations overseas.