Client Affairs

Bank Luminary Joseph Safra Dies At 82

Jackie Bennion Deputy Editor 11 December 2020

Bank Luminary Joseph Safra Dies At 82

His financial empire included Zurich-based J. Safra Sarasin, Safra Bank in Sao Paolo and the Safra National Bank of New York.

The private statesman behind Bank J Safra Sarasin, Brazilian financier Joseph Safra, has died at 82 of natural causes, the firm said yesterday.

The Swiss-Lebanese billionaire, with Syrian ancestry, moved with his family to Brazil as a teenager to build what became a private banking empire. He was a prominent figure in Brazil’s Jewish community, and in later years active globally in philanthropic causes.

Building the family business, which extended well beyond finance, was not without family conflict. Sibling rivalry at the top of the bank in 2006 led Safra to pay a reported $2.5 billion for his brother Moise’s 50 per cent stake in Safra Bank, which is Brazil's eighth largest lender.

"He was a great banker, a true entrepreneur who built the J Safra Group around the world, being successful for his dignity and business vision. He was a great leader and very respected inside and outside the organisation," the bank said in a statement.

Among many milestones, he founded the Republic National Bank of New York (later sold to HSBC) and fulfilled philanthropic ambitions through his Edmond Safra Foundation, named after his brother, who died in a suspected arson fire in 1999. Safra remained chair of the Safra Group, which provides banking services across Europe and Latin America.

He accumulated a large property portfolio, and in 2014 reportedly paid £700 million to buy London's iconic Gherkin tower. In 2016, he was caught up in bribery and tax allegations by Brazilian authorities which were later dropped.

Joseph Safra's personal fortune is estimated at $23 billion, ranking him Brazil’s wealthiest man. He died a Swiss resident and is survived by his wife Vicky and his four children.

WealthBriefing extends its condolences to Joseph Safra's colleagues, family and friends at this sad time.

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