Know Your Fugitive Financiers!

Bill Clinton’s ill-considered pardon to Marc Rich has revived Chatterbox’s favorite journalistic alliteration: “fugitive financier.” Who are the other fugitive financiers, and where are they now? Below, a Who’s Who:

Biggs, Ronald. More fugitive than financier. Jailed in England for his role in that country’s fabled “Great Train Robbery” in 1963, which boosted more than 2 million pounds from a Glasgow-to-London mail train; busted out in 1965; now age 71 and living in Brazil. Recently photographed wrapped in a Union Jack and flanked by two truncheon-wielding models from the Elite agency clad in British police helmets and very little else for an ad for DuLoren lingerie. Click here for his Web site.

Cornfeld, Bernie. Often described, erroneously, as a fugitive financier. In fact, he was an American-born financier who ran afoul of European authorities in 1970. Using the pitch, “Do you sincerely want to be rich?” he lured investors into a Swiss-based mutual fund, Investors Overseas Services, that turned out to be a massive pyramid scheme. The fund was later taken over by Robert Vesco (see entry below). The Swiss clapped Cornfeld in jail for 11 months, but eventually dropped fraud charges and permitted Cornfeld to return to the United States, where he resumed a gaudy lifestyle and dated, among others, the Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. He died in 1995 at age 67.

Frankel, Martin. Fled the U.S. in May 1999 to escape prosecution for an alleged $200 million insurance fraud. Arrested in Germany four months later and sentenced to three years in jail for not paying taxes on smuggled diamonds and holding nine fake passports. Told ABC News’ 20/20,  “I love people too much.” Currently awaiting extradition to the U.S., which may occur as early as next month.

Nadir, Asil. Fled England to Cyprus in 1993 to avoid fraud charges connected to the multi-million-pound collapse of Polly Peck, a food and electronics conglomerate. Recently described by his lawyers as “paranoid, depressed and possibly suicidal” in an unsuccessful bid to have his case dismissed.

Vesco, Robert.. The undisputed king of the fugitive financiers. Vesco fled to Costa Rica in 1973 in order to avoid standing trial for the alleged theft of $224 million from the Swiss-based mutual fund, Investors Overseas Services (see Bernie Cornfeld, above). Shortly before Vesco left, he delivered $200,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. The money was stuffed in a suitcase and handed over to campaign treasurer Maurice Stans, who ended up paying a $5,000 fine for “non-willful violation” of campaign-finance law. Vesco was indicted in absentia. He was indicted yet again in 1989 on drug smuggling charges. From Costa Rica, Vesco hopscotched to the Bahamas, Antigua (where he tried unsuccessfully to buy a nearby island called Barbuda and establish it as a sovereign state), Nicaragua and, finally, Cuba, where he has lived for the past two decades and, since 1995, been domiciled in a Cuban jail. Vesco was convicted in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud Cuba’s pharmaceutical industry. Also arrested by the Cubans was Vesco’s partner and houseguest, Donald Nixon, nephew to the former president. Nixon was allowed to return to the U.S., but Vesco went to the slammer. He gets out in 2009, when he’ll be 74. Vesco’s Cuban wife Lidia was convicted on lesser charges and gets out in 2005.

To read Emily Yoffe’s Explainer on the rarity of fugitives winning pardons, click here.