A son of Joseph Safra sued his mother and two brothers over the banker's multi-million dollar estate
Alberto Safra accuses them of maneuvering to take away his stake in Safra National Bank. The relatives rejected the claims and point to him for acting against the memory of the businessman who died in 2020
FILE PHOTO: A man walks in front of the Banco Safra SA headquarters in Sao Paulo March 26, 2015. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo
A son of one of the world's richest bankers, Lebanese-Brazilian billionaire Joseph Safra, sued his mother and two brothers amid a dispute over his late father's fortune, according to a court filing Monday.
Alberto Safra accused his family members of purposely diluting their stake in a holding company of Safra National Bank in an attempt to drive him out of the family empire.
< p class="paragraph">In the lawsuit, filed in the New York State Supreme Court, Alberto Safra claims that his mother, Vicky Safra, and his siblings < b>Jacob and David Safra they had engaged in acts of business misconduct to harm their interests in the company.
“Due to the illegal and aggressive acts committed by his brothers, Alberto Safra had no choice but to file a sues before the Supreme Court of New York to protect his rights,” his representative said in a statement.
Alberto Safra resigned from the board of directors of Banco Safra at the end of 2019 after a dispute with his younger brother David. A year later, their father, Joseph Safra, who was for many years the richest man in Brazil and the richest banker in the world, has died at the age of 82.
Brazilian banker Joseph Safra, founder of the bank that bears his last name, was considered the richest man in Brazil. He died at the age of 82 (EFE/Jose Cordeiro/Archive)
In 2021, Alberto Safra and the family were about to reach an agreement on the testament of Joseph Safra to avoid litigation over the fortune, then valued at 15,000 million dollars.
In a statement, the Safra family rejected Alberto's claims and said it “regrets the path taken by Alberto, who first acted against his father while he was alive and now acts against his memory.”
Alberto resigned from the board of the family bank in 2019, due “solely to his personal intention to pursue another project with the family,” according to a memo sent by Safra at the time. Alberto kept his stake in Grupo J. Safra and created ASA Investments
According to the family, Alberto left Banco Safra a few months after receiving his father's donations in anticipation of his inheritance, without responding to the appeals made personally by his father and started a business that competed with Banco Safra, “having even harassed and hired several executives of the Group.”
The family statement added that Joseph Safra had asked several executives not to join Alberto and, after several refusals from him to change his plans, he disinherited his son.
Safra in a 2002 photo. Joseph rarely gave interviews and often avoided public events (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/file)
The disputed estate
Joseph Safra became the richest banker in the worldtransforming a Brazilian bank into a multi-billion dollar global empire.
At stake is a conglomerate made up of Banco Safra SA, Safra National Bank of New York and the Swiss company J Safra Sarasin, firms with approximately USD 85 billion in banking assets. There is also a $2.3 billion real estate portfolio, which includes the Gherkin in London and 660 Madison Avenue in New York, a stake in the banana company Chiquita Brands International, and a 130-room mansion in Sao Paulo.
A centuries-old dynasty
The Safra dynasty traces its origins to the Ottoman Empire, when it financed camel caravan operators, and has overcome world and family crises.
Joseph Safra was born in 1938, in Beirut, Lebanon, in a Jewish banking clan with roots in Aleppo, Syria. His father, Jacob , moved the family to Brazil after World War II, and Banco Safra was established in 1957. He and his brother Moise run the Brazilian business, after their older brother, Edmond, separated years earlier to build his own banks in Europe and New York.
People walking in front of a branch of the Swiss private bank J. Safra Sarasin in Zurich, Switzerland June 22, 2020. (REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann)
Edmond, who later sold the business to HSBC Holdings Plc, died in 1999 as the victim of arson at Monaco.
In Brazil, Joseph and Moise turned the bank in one of the largest in Latin America, serving the richest people in the country and the most prominent companies. The business was known for its strength, despite the many turmoils its home country subjected it to. Jacob Safra said: “If you choose to sail the seas of bank, build your bank as you would build your boat, with the strength to sail safely through any storm.”
It was also flawed, including in 2009, after the group was linked to a feeder fund for Bernie Madoff, who orchestrated a $17.5 billion pyramid.
Joseph and Moise parted ways in the 2000s, when a feud between the two led Joseph to create a rival bank across the street from his family, J Safra, and began hunting down clients. To end the dispute, Moise sold his share of the family business to Joseph in 2006 for about $2.5 billion and left the bank.
His children Jacob, David, Alberto and Esther received shares of the family's main asset, Banco Safra, in December 2020, according to a regulatory document. Two of his sons already have central roles within the group, with Jacob in charge of the international side of operations, while David oversees the Brazilian firm. Joseph's daughter, Esther, is an educator and was never involved with the bank.
The youngest are already leaving their mark. The Brazilian unit, built to serve the country's largest and richest companies, ventured into retail banking this year. In October, it launched AgZero, a branchless digital bank, and bolstered a digital investment platform under the SafraInvest brand. Notoriously low profile, the bank has invested more in marketing.
There were also more subtle changes. In 2019, David was seated among the country's banking elite at a year-end luncheon hosted by the Brazilian federation of banks. At those types of events, Banco Safra was usually represented by a senior executive, not a family member: Joseph was incredibly media-shy, rarely giving interviews and avoiding public events. David's presence was seen as a show of strength within the firm.
(With information from Reuters and Bloomberg)