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Marc Rich, recipient of a presidential pardon, will not escape the pursuit of New York tax officials, who this morning headed to court to collect $137 million in back taxes they say the fugitive financier owes the state.

The action will allow the state to place a lien on any assets that Rich, who lives in Switzerland, may still have in New York and then begin to collect tax money he owes against those assets, state officials said.

"Mr. Rich has avoided his tax payments in New York for nearly two decades while he was under federal indictment. It is now time for him to pay the piper," said state Tax Commissioner Arthur Roth.

The Rich controversy has swirled since he was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in January and subsequent revelations that Rich's former wife contributed an estimated $450,000 to the Clinton presidential library, more than $1.1 million to the Democratic Party and at least $109,000 to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign last year.

The pardon is under investigation by congressional committees and federal prosecutors in New York City to determine if there was any illegal connection between the donations and the pardon. Clinton has denied any impropriety and has called his pardon a "humanitarian act."

"We feel that Marc Rich personally benefited from the admitted fraud of at least two companies he controlled and therefore evaded personal income taxes on the money he realized through his control of those corporations," Roth said.

The state has a case, officials say, to go after taxes that Rich avoided while living in a Park Avenue apartment in New York during his participation in a business tax-cheating scheme.

State tax officials said they had stayed on the sidelines to avoid jeopardizing the federal investigation against Rich. He was indicted in 1983 in New York on federal charges of tax evasion, fraud and participation in illegal oil deals with Iran during a world oil embargo that followed that country's seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Rich fled to Switzerland after the indictment, insisting he did so because he could not get a fair trial in the United States. He now holds Israeli and Spanish citizenship.

"We do not intend to allow Mr. Rich to shuffle or conceal assets in order to avoid this tax bill," Roth said.

Most of the $137 million being sought by the state -- $97.4 million -- is in the form of interest payments that tax officials say Rich owes on back taxes for the years 1980 to 1982.

Jack Quinn, Rich's lawyer and a former counsel to Clinton, could not be reached to comment this morning.

The state action centers on "significant economic benefit" that Rich received from two companies he controlled during the early 1980s while he was a New York State resident.

Marc Rich International and Marc Rich and Co. pleaded guilty in 1984 to 38 criminal counts as part of a federal probe. The companies paid $150 million to settle the case.

In Washington, the House Government Reform Committee today was holding a hearing on the Rich pardon and was expected to hear from former White House chief of staff John Podesta, former White House counsel Beth Nolan and Clinton adviser Bruce Lindsey.

All three are expected to testify that they opposed Rich's pardon but that Clinton made his decision to grant the pardon on the merits of the case, not donations to his library.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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