Edmond Safra

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Edmond Safra
Edmond J. Safra

(1932-08-06)6 August 1932
Died3 December 1999(1999-12-03) (aged 67)
(m. 1976)
Parent(s)Jacob Safra
Esther Safra
RelativesJoseph Safra (brother)
Moise Safra (brother)
The Villa Leopolda at Villefranche-sur-Mer from the road to La Condamine

Edmond J. Safra (Arabic: ادموند يعقوب صفرا; 6 August 1932 – 3 December 1999) was a Lebanese-Brazilian billionaire banker and philanthropist of Syrian descent. He continued his family tradition of banking in Brazil and Switzerland, and was married to Lily Watkins from 1976 until his death.[4] He died in a fire that attracted wide media interest, and was judicially determined to be due to arson.


Edmond was born in Beirut, Lebanon,[5][6][7][8] his family is of Sephardic Jewish background originally from Aleppo, Syria.[9][10] Edmond's father, Jacob Safra, had opened the J. E. Safra Bank in 1920 in Beirut and in 1929 it became the Banque Jacob E. Safra which in 1956 changed its name to Banque de Credit National S.A.L. (BCN).[11] By the time he was sixteen, Edmond Safra was working at his father's bank in Beirut, engaged in the precious metals and foreign exchange aspects of the business.

In 1949, the family moved from Lebanon to Italy, where he worked for a trading company in Milan. When he was 16, he earned $40 million during arbitrage transactions between Italian and British gold sovereigns and used this money to obtain a financial house in Geneva which became his Trade Development Bank which used only ancient Arabic script for its bookkeeping.[12] The family moved again in 1952, this time to Brazil, where Edmond Safra and his father founded their first Brazilian financial institution in 1955. He never made Israel his residence.[13]

Career in banking[edit]

In 1956, Edmond Safra settled in Geneva to set up a private bank, the Trade Development Bank, which grew from an original US$1 million to US$5 billion during the 1980s. He extended his financial empire to satisfy his wealthy clients from around the world. He also founded the Republic National Bank of New York in 1966, and, later, Republic National Bank of New York (Suisse) in Geneva. The Republic Bank operated 80 branches in the New York area, making it the number three branch network in the metropolitan region behind Citigroup and Chase Manhattan.

Safra's banking interests served clients in Monaco, Luxembourg and Switzerland.[14]

From 1980 until Safra's death, Walter Weiner was Safra's attorney and CEO of Republic National Bank of New York and, in 1983, Weiner became chairman of the bank.[14]

The sale of Trade Development Bank to American Express for more than US$450 million in 1983, turned into a legal battle between the two parties. The financier came out on top, winning a public apology from American Express for starting a smear campaign against him[15] and US$8 million in damages, all of which he donated to charities.[16][17]

In 1988, he also founded Safra Republic Holdings S.A., a Luxembourg bank holding company.[18]

By the early 1990s, Safra's fortune was estimated at US$2.5 billion. He was a major philanthropist during his lifetime, and he left his wealth to the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation[19] which supports hundreds of projects in fifty countries around the world in the areas of education, science, medicine, religion, culture and humanitarian assistance.

In 1996 Safra co-founded Hermitage Capital Management with Beny Steinmetz and Bill Browder.[20] The hedge fund became one of the most important investment companies in Russia and later became famous in connection with the Sergei Magnitsky affair.

On 17 August 1998, Safra's Republic National Bank of New York lost 45% of its net income due to its large holding of Russian bonds after the 1998 Russian financial crisis.[14]

In 1998, Safra's bank alerted the FBI and the Swiss justice about a possible money laundering scheme involving IMF money, the Republic National Bank of New York and the Republic National Bank of New York (Suisse), some other unidentified outlets, and Russian officials of both the Russian Ministry of Finance and the Russian Central Bank.[21][a][b] The IMF funds, which Italian newspaper la Repubblica estimated at $21.4 billion,[21][24][25][26] are said to have caused the Russian financial crisis of 1998.[21][27][28][c]

Later life and death[edit]

As he approached his 60s, Safra divided his time between his homes in Monaco, Geneva, and New York City and the Villa Leopolda on the French Riviera. Weakened by Parkinson's disease, he required nursing care.[17][32][33]

On 2 December 1999, Edmond and Lily Safra gained Monegasque citizenship.[32]

In 1999, he sold his Safra Republic Holdings and Republic New York Corporation to HSBC for $10.3 billion in cash.[34][35] On 31 December 1999, HSBC Private Bank became the new name for Safra's former holdings.[36]

In December 1999, Safra and nurse Vivian Torrente were suffocated by fumes in a fire deliberately lit at the billionaire's Monaco home,[37][38][39] where he apparently felt so safe that he did not have his bodyguards stay the night.[40] On the night of the fire, Daniel Serdet, the attorney general and chief prosecutor of Monaco, stated that Samuel Cohen, Safra's personal security chief, stated that no security guards were needed.[32][41] Safra's nurse Ted Maher was arrested[42] under suspicion of starting the fire in order to gain attention "through a daring rescue", and then losing control unintentionally.[43] He was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 10 years in prison.[44]

Edmond Safra left 50% of his assets to several charities.[45]

Philanthropic activities[edit]

Safra supported educational, religious, medical, cultural, and humanitarian causes and organizations around the world. The Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation carries on this work in his memory.[46]

Emergency relief[edit]

In April 1992, the Syrian regime dropped the travel restrictions on Jews. Edmond Safra, whose family had old ties with the city of Aleppo, offered to transfer 4,500 Syrian Jews by plane and financed their settling in Brooklyn.[47]

Supporting faith[edit]

Committed to his Judaism, Safra believed that constructing and renovating synagogues was important in places where there was a potential for a Jewish community to flourish, and synagogues around the world bearing his father's name testify to this commitment. Many of these were built in the world's major Jewish centers, but he also helped to build synagogues in more remote communities such as Manila and Kinshasa.

500 years after the last synagogue was built in Madrid he constructed a new one. He also helped to renovate and enlarge synagogues in Amsterdam, Istanbul, Naples, Budapest, Rhodes, and Vienna. Safra saved the oldest synagogue in France, in Clermont-Ferrand, from destruction by buying it for the community, and he contributed to the expansion of the Cannes synagogue and Synagogue Beth El in Paris.[48] He also helped refurbish synagogues in many small French cities including Évian, Annemasse, and others. Among the synagogues is the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in New York City.

In addition to supporting a number of synagogues in Israel, the tombs of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai (2nd century CE) were especially important to him, and he was a generous supporter of these pilgrimage sites. For many years on Shavuot eve, the anniversary of his father's death, he would pray at the tomb of Rabbi Meir until dawn.

Enhance healthcare and finance medical research[edit]

During his lifetime, Safra donated millions of dollars to provide treatment for the sick. Hospitals across the globe – the Hôpital Cantonal de Genève, the Hôpitaux de France, and countless institutions in the United States, for example – benefited from his generosity. He was one of the founders of Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, today one of South America's major medical centers. In Israel, he initiated the construction of the Edmond and Lily Safra Children's Hospital at the Tel Hashomer hospital complex.

In the area of medical research, he was a significant supporter of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, the Weizmann Institute in Israel, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and a number of different centers studying specific diseases in France, the United States, and elsewhere around the world. He created the Edmond and Lily Safra Chair in Breast Cancer Research at Tulane University.[49]

In France, the Edmond J. Safra Foundation[19] financially supports Clinatec.[50]


Safra believed higher education was essential for every young person in the modern world, even though he himself never attended university. He provided university scholarship funds for tens of thousands of needy students through the International Sephardic Education Foundation (ISEF), an institution he and his wife established in 1977 to support deserving Israeli students.[51]

Safra also helped universities directly, often through the support of chairs and particular programs (such as Judaic Studies). For example, at Harvard University he endowed the Jacob E. Safra Professorship of Jewish History and Sephardic Civilization, and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics; and he gave significant funds for the Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professorship in Latin American Studies.[52] At the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, he created the Jacob E. Safra Professorship of International Banking and the Safra Business Research Center.

Safra was awarded Honorary Doctorates by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Yeshiva University (New York) (where he established the Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies) for his ongoing support of those institutions.

With respect to younger children's education, Safra was especially devoted to schools in the cities where he lived – for example, he founded Ecole Girsa,[53] Geneva's first and largest Jewish school. He took great pride in founding the Beit Yaacov school in Bat Yam. He was also one of the world's most significant benefactors of yeshivot (religious schools training young men to be rabbis, Jewish teachers, and judges), assisting numerous institutions worldwide.[54]


Recognized for his philanthropy, Safra received a few official honors[citation needed]:

Further reading: Biographies[edit]

  • Daniel Gross, A Banker's Journey: How Edmond J. Safra Built a Global Financial Empire, New York: Radius, 2022. ISBN 978-1635767858.
  • Bryan Burrough, Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safra, New York: HarperCollins, 1992. ISBN 0-06-016759-9.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In July 1998, Vladimir Putin travelled from Moscow to the south of France to conduct important meetings when he was named head of the FSB.[22]
  2. ^ In 1998, Safra's Republic National Bank of New York was the preferred foreign bank through which most Russian banks had correspondent accounts and both Russian banks, including SBS-Agro (Russian: СБС-Агро), Menatep (Russian: Менатеп), Inkom (Russian: Инком), and United Bank (Russian: Объединенный банк), and the Russian Ministry of Finance transferred IMF loan money to foreign locations through Safra's Republic National Bank of New York.[23]
  3. ^ According to Oleg Lurie, after Boris Berezovsky, who was a Deputy Secretary of the Security Council and the owner of United Bank (Russian: Объединенный банк), a Russian bank involved in the scheme of stealing the IMF funds, tipped off Safra in early autumn 1999 that he would be killed because he had assisted prosecutors, Safra moved from his villa Leopold at Antibes to a very secure bunker in Monaco where he died in December 1999 when two armed masked men entered Safra's 1000 square meter apartment and set fire to it while Safra, his wife, daughter and others in it.[21][24] Safra succoumbed to smoke inhalation during the blaze.[21][24] In March 1998, Alexander Litvinenko had been ordered to kill Berezovsky.[29][30][31] According to Safra's bodyguards, in the summer of 1999, Safra traveled to Moscow staying for several days during which he met several high-ranking Russian Ministry of Finance officials, Berezovsky, and Roman Abramovich.[28]


  1. ^ a b Edmond Safra (1954), information from the National Archives, Rio de Janeiro. Scan of Edmond Safra's Brazilian entry visa on 1954 on familysearch.org
  2. ^ a b Edmond Safra (1954), information from the National Archives, Rio de Janeiro. Scan of Edmond Safra's Brazilian entry visa on 1954 on familysearch.org
  3. ^ Lichfield, John (4 December 1999). "Billionaire who blew whistle on Russian cash scandal is killed in Monte Carlo". Independent. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Billionaire who blew whistle on Russian cash scandal is killed in". The Independent. 4 December 1999. Retrieved 8 March 2024.
  5. ^ Edmond Safra (1954) and Edmond Safra (1954) information from the National Archives, Rio de Janeiro. Scan of Edmond Safra's Brazilian entry visa on 1954 on familysearch.org
  6. ^ Lichfield, John (4 December 1999). "Billionaire who blew whistle on Russian cash scandal is killed in Monte Carlo". The Independent. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  7. ^ "Edmond J. Safra". Edmond Safra foundation official website. Archived from the original on 2 August 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  8. ^ Angelo, Jesse (4 December 1999). "BUILDING AN EMPIRE: HOW LEBANESE-BORN BANKER EDMOND SAFRA BECAME ONE OF THE WORLD'S RICHEST MEN". New York Post. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  9. ^ (Page 6, 2015's version) https://www.edmondjsafra.org/book/
  10. ^ "Edmond J. Safra: A biography on the Sephardi Jewish legend - review". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. 31 October 2022. Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  11. ^ "Banque de Credit National S.A.L.: Overview History". Banque de Credit National S. A. L. (bcnlb.com). July 2013. Archived from the original on 5 July 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  12. ^ Brummer, Alex (3 December 1999). "Edmond Safra: Banker who kept his money in the family". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  13. ^ Liane Grunberg Wakabayashi. (3 September 2022). "How did a proud Sephardi Jew build a global financial empire?". Jerusalem Post website Retrieved 9 September 2022.
  14. ^ a b c Miller, Steven (9 May 2016). "Walter Weiner, Who Led Edmond Safra's Republic Bank, Dies at 85". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on 10 May 2016. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  15. ^ Zonana, Victor F. (28 April 1992). "Controversy at American Express". The Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ Burrough, Bryan, 1961– (1992). Vendetta : American Express and the smearing of Edmond Safra. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-215957-0. OCLC 27770148.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ a b Henry, Michel (4 December 1999). "Monaco: mort suspecte d'un roi de la Finance. Edmond J. Safra est décédé vendredi dans un incendie" [Monaco: suspicious death of a King of Finance. Edmond J. Safra died in a fire on Friday.]. Libération (in French). Archived from the original on 4 March 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  18. ^ Weiss, Gary (7 March 1994). "The Mystery Man of Finance, Inside the World of Billionaire Banker Edmond Safra". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on 16 July 2019. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  19. ^ a b "Edmond J. Safra Foundation – Home". Edmondjsafra.org. 16 June 2016. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  20. ^ Browder, Bill (2015). Red notice : a true story of high finance, murder, and one man's fight for justice. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 84, 87. ISBN 9781476755717. OCLC 883146703.
  21. ^ a b c d e Лурье, Олег (Lurie, Oleg) [in Russian] (24 July 2000). "Если Касьянов приедет в Швейцарию, его вызовут к следователю?" [If Kasyanov arrives in Switzerland, will he be summoned to the investigator?]. Novaya Gazeta (in Russian). Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 8 January 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ Crawford, David; Bensmann, Marcus (30 July 2015). "Putin's early years". CORRECT!V. Archived from the original on 10 July 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  23. ^ Лурье, Олег (Lurie, Oleg) [in Russian] (3 March 2003). "Cxema Движения Кпедита МВФ В 4,8 МЛРД. ДОЛЛ" [Scheme Transfer IMF Credits $4.8 billion]. Время новостей (Vremya Novostei) (in Russian). Archived from the original on 1 February 2021. Retrieved 17 July 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  24. ^ a b c "NEWSPAPER SCANDAL OVER IMF DIVERSION EXPANDS". Jamestown Foundation. 25 July 2000. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  25. ^ "La Repubblica: Деньги МВФ были разворованы" [La Repubblica: IMF money was stolen]. la Repubblica (in Russian). 6 October 1999. Retrieved 19 January 2021 – via Lenta.ru.
  26. ^ Лурье, Олег (Lurie, Oleg) [in Russian] (23 October 2000). "Интервью Туровера. "Если я приеду, получу пулю в аэропорту." Крупнейшие финансовые структуры России времен Ельцина- это насосы для перекачки украденных миллиардов в карманы "семьи" и ее окружения" [Turover's interview. "If I come, I'll get a bullet at the airport." The largest financial structures in Russia during the Yeltsin era are pumps for pumping stolen billions into the pockets of the "family" and its entourage]. Novaya Gazeta (in Russian). Retrieved 19 January 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  27. ^ Денисов, Андрей (Denisov, Andrei) (19 April 2004). "Алексей Можин: Украсть деньги МВФ вообще невозможно" [Alexey Mozhin: Stealing IMF money is generally impossible]. Время новостей (Vremya Novostei) (in Russian). Archived from the original on 5 September 2004. Retrieved 19 January 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  28. ^ a b Лурье, Олег (Lurie, Oleg) [in Russian] (3 March 2003). "Украденные миллиарды: Исчезнувший кредит МВФ найден в швейцарских структурах Романа Абрамовича" [Stolen billions: Disappeared IMF loan found in Swiss structures of Roman Abramovich]. Время новостей (Vremya Novostei) (in Russian). Retrieved 19 January 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  29. ^ "Березовский и УРПО / дело Литвиненко" [Berezovsky and URPO / Litvinenko case] (in Russian). Агентура (Agentura). Archived from the original on 8 December 2006. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  30. ^ "Березовский-письмо" [Berezovsky-letter]. Kommersant (in Russian). 13 November 1998. Archived from the original on 24 January 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  31. ^ Скакунов, Илья (Skakunov, Ilya) (29 June 1998). "'Братки' с Лубянки ведут игру без правил: Оскандалившиеся контрразведчики уверены, что лучший способ обороны – нападение" ['Brothers' from Lubyanka are playing a game without rules: Disgraced counterintelligence officers are sure that the best way of defense is attack]. Сегодня (Segodniya) (in Russian). Archived from the original on 3 May 2001. Retrieved 8 January 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  32. ^ a b c Dunne, Dominick (December 2000). "Death in Monaco". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on 1 March 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  33. ^ "Swissleaks." The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Archived from the original on September 29, 2022.
  34. ^ "Swiss Leaks: Billionaire Safra key to HSBC Swiss bank origins". Thelocal.ch. 9 February 2015. Archived from the original on 9 February 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  35. ^ "Bank Group to Buy Republic New York". The New York Times. 11 May 1999. Archived from the original on 22 December 2013. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  36. ^ "HSBC Private Bank: Company history". HSBC website. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  37. ^ "Billionaire's mysterious death in Monte Carlo – Dateline NBC – International | NBC News". NBC News. 23 March 2008. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  38. ^ "Billionaire's mysterious death in Monte Carlo". msnbc.com. 23 March 2008. Retrieved 2 July 2018.
  39. ^ The mystery of the billionaire banker, Dateline NBC, March 23, 2008.
  40. ^ Daley, Suzanne (7 December 1999). "Nurse Is Said to Admit Arson That Killed Banker in Monaco". The New York Times.
  41. ^ Trueheart, Charles (5 December 1999). "Details Emerge in Banker's Killing: Safra Was Alive When Firefighters Arrived, Monaco's Prosecutor Says". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  42. ^ "Murder In Monaco: An American On Trial". CBS News. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  43. ^ Monaco Tribunal Decision, December, 2002.
  44. ^ "Murder In Monaco: An American On Trial". CBS News. 8 July 2003.
  45. ^ "Bilan > Dossier finance de 7 milliards à 100 millions". 9 July 2012. Archived from the original on 9 July 2012.
  46. ^ "Hope Opportunity Love Faith Inspiration Joy Dignity" (PDF). Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation. 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 May 2021. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
  47. ^ Sephardic Jews Take Manhattan, Tablet Mag, December 18th, 2012
  48. ^ "bethel online". www.bethel-net.org.
  49. ^ "Tulane University – Shedding New Light on Cancer Risk". www.ohr.tulane.edu.[permanent dead link]
  50. ^ "Cea Leti – Clinatec / Innovation platforms / Discover Leti / Home". Leti.cea.fr. 19 October 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  51. ^ "Edmond J. Safra Scholars – ISEF Foundation – Israel Education – Israel Scholarships – Non-Profit – Israel and New York". iseffoundation.org.
  52. ^ "RFK Visiting Professorship in Latin American Studies". Archived from the original on 3 October 2017. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  53. ^ "Ecole Alliance Girsa – Ecole juive Genève – Membre de l'Alliance Universelle Israélite".
  54. ^ Aleppo: City of Scholars, the Jack Adjmi edition, Rabbi David Sutton, 2005.
  55. ^ Rapport d'activité de l'Etat, Gouvernement de Jean-Claude Junkcker, Gouvernement du Luxembourg, 1999.

External links[edit]