Hollywood Flashback: Bill Clinton Pardoned a Criminal Studio Owner in 2001

Jim Berry/Camera Press/Redux
Former 20th Century Fox co-owner Marc Rich at his home in Spain in an undated photo.

Tinseltown's closest brush with a presidential pardon came in January 2001 with commodities trader Marc Rich, who once owned 20th Century Fox with Marvin Davis.

One presidential perk that Donald Trump should really enjoy is Article II of the Constitution, which allows him to "grant reprieves and pardons." President Obama recently commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence; Gerald Ford used the power to forgive Richard Nixon (who himself had pardoned Jimmy Hoffa); and in 1893, Benjamin Harrison let loose the Woodstock of all pardons: every Mormon who ever had been in "plural marriages and polygamous cohabitation." (It was part of the deal that made Utah a state.)

Hollywood's closest brush with a presidential pardon came in January 2001 with commodities trader Marc Rich, who once owned 20th Century Fox with Marvin Davis. In 1981, the pair paid $722 million for the studio, with Rich acting as a silent partner and Davis having voting control. All went relatively well for two years until Rich was indicted for back taxes, wire fraud and a baroque illegal oil scheme with Iran.

"He was such a nice guy," says Davis' widow, Barbara. "Most of the criminals I've met have been really nice. You'd be amazed." Rich, then 39, fled to Switzerland to avoid prosecution. That's when Rupert Murdoch stepped in. The Australian media mogul first bought Rich's half of Fox, then Davis' share two years later. (Davis was reported to have made a $500 million profit.)

This could have ended the story, but Rich's ex-wife Denise, who was a multimillion-dollar donor to the Democratic Party, appealed to her friend President Bill Clinton for her ex-husband's pardon. Though controversial, the amnesty was granted in his presidency's final hours. Regardless, the billionaire stayed in Switzerland until his 2013 death from a stroke. 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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