By Steven Scheer
KIBBUTZ EINAT, Israel (Reuters) - Billionaire Marc Rich, the pioneering oil trader who was also a fugitive from U.S. justice for tax evasion, racketeering and busting sanctions with Iran, was laid to rest in a quiet funeral outside Tel Aviv on Thursday.
About 100 people, mostly family and old business associates, attended the Jewish religious funeral in the pastoral grounds of Kibbutz Einat, where those who spoke described Rich as loving, kind and generous and not as his public image might suggest.
He was buried next to his daughter, Gabrielle, who died of leukemia in 1996 at the age of 27.
The rabbi of Jerusalem's Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, led a prayer at the ceremony.
Avner Azulay, managing director of the Marc Rich Foundation, said few people really knew Rich. "You did in this world more good than people know," he eulogized.
Belgian-born Rich fled the Holocaust with his parents for America to become the most successful and controversial trader of his time and a fugitive from U.S. justice. He died on Wednesday in Switzerland aged 78 of a stroke.
His trading group Marc Rich and Co AG in Switzerland eventually became the global commodities powerhouse Glencore Xstrata.
Absent from the funeral were the elite of Israel's business world and leading politicians such as former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, who lobbied U.S. President Bill Clinton on Rich's behalf for his pardon.
A son of Peres did attend the funeral, as did Glencore Xstrata chief executive Ivan Glasenberg and the daughter of former partner Pincus "Pinky" Green.
In interviews with journalist Daniel Ammann for his biography, "The King of Oil," the normally secretive Rich admitted to assisting the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.
Interviewed in the book, Rich was asked about that assistance. He replied: "First of all, I'm Jewish. Second, Israel is a country I'm involved with. I'm a citizen. It's a natural thing for me to help Israel."
Ammann told Reuters he believed the low point of Rich's life was when his daughter Gabrielle died. According to Azulay, he would visit her grave every time he came to Israel and sit in silence with tears in his eyes.
But in his business dealings, Ammann believed Rich had few regrets.
"He had no remorse at all," Ammann said. "I asked him openly if he had any remorse about trading with apartheid South Africa, but he always said he was not a politician but a trader."
Rich fled to Switzerland in 1983 to escape charges that included exploiting the U.S. embargo against Iran, while it was holding U.S. hostages, to make huge profits on illicit Iranian oil sales. He always insisted he did nothing illegal.
"So many were misinformed and misguided by the media image constantly distorting and demonizing, including in his last days," Azulay said.
He remained under threat of a life sentence in a U.S. jail until Clinton pardoned him during the last chaotic hours of his presidency, a move that provoked moral outrage and bewilderment among some politicians. He never returned to the United States.
Rich's ex-wife, Denise, had donated funds to Clinton's presidential library.
The former president later said the donation was not a factor in his decision and he had acted partly in response to a request from Israel. He regretted granting the pardon, calling it "terrible politics."
"May you rest in peace now with Gabrielle and with (your parents) Paula and David," Denise said. "Thank you so much for all your generosity and for all the lives you touched and you helped because of your philanthropy."
(additional reporting by David Sheppard in New York; Writing by Tova Cohen; editing by Mike Collett-White)