By Dmitry Zhdannikov
LONDON (Reuters) - One of the world's most influential oil traders, Claude Dauphin, who founded Trafigura and turned it into one of the biggest commodities players in the world, died on Wednesday at the age of 64 after a battle with cancer, the company said.
The Frenchman, who never gave an interview, began his career with the father of modern oil trading and U.S. fugitive Marc Rich, who was active throughout the 1970s-1990s, and became his chief oil trader.
As Marc Rich's business suffered in the 1990s because of wrong bets in the metals markets, many of his junior managers pushed through a buyout to oust Rich and rename the company Glencore.
But Dauphin, who spoke highly of Rich, chose to set up his own company in 1993, parting ways with former colleagues including Glencore's current chief Ivan Glasenberg.
Dauphin spent the next 20 years travelling the world to turn his firm into a top three global oil and commodities trader with turnover of $127 billion (£84 billion) and trading 2.5 million barrels per day or around three percent of global oil.
Last year, he stepped down as chief executive of Trafigura for medical treatment, and the company appointed Jeremy Weir as the new CEO. Dauphin remained executive chairman and continued to travel.
"He fought very hard. He never stopped," one of Trafigura's employees said.
Trafigura said Dauphin died in Bogota, Colombia. He went there to inspect the firm's new facilities.
Dauphin's darkest days came when he spent almost six months behind bars in Ivory Coast in 2006-7 in pre-trial detention due to a dispute over toxic waste dumping.
Shortly after the material was dumped, residents of the city of Abidjan complained of illnesses. The government of Ivory Coast said 16 people died.
Trafigura said it entrusted the waste to a state-registered Ivorian company, Tommy, which dumped the material illegally at sites around Abidjan.
"We went to the Ivory Coast on a mission to help the people of Abidjan, and to find ourselves arrested and in jail as a result has been a terrible ordeal for ourselves and our families," Dauphin said at the time.
Trafigura paid a $200 million settlement and the Ivory Coast prosecutor said that there was no evidence of any illegality or misconduct by any Trafigura staff.
Described by colleagues and rivals alike as a man of formidable drive, Dauphin over the past decade took a very different approach to developing his company to that of Glencore.
He wanted it to remain private and chose to sell stakes in various divisions to strategic partners, including in its mid-stream unit Puma to Angolan investors and in its mining assets to Abu-Dhabi's investment firm Mubadala.
Under Dauphin, Trafigura also expanded ties with Russia's state oil firm Rosneft, becoming one of its biggest crude buyers, despite international sanctions.
Dauphin owned around 20 percent in Trafigura, which has a book value of around $6 billion. The rest belongs to Trafigura's senior management.
(Editing by William Hardy)