Moise Safra

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - GLO­RIA TESSLER


KNOWN AS the Roth­schild of Brazil, Moise Safra, who has died at the age of 79 from com­pli­ca­tions of Parkin­son’s Dis­ease, was a fi­nancier and phi­lan­thropist who built up a multi­bil­lion dol­lar bank­ing em­pire with his two broth­ers. With an es­ti­mated wealth of £.1.3 bn, he be­came one of Brazil’s rich­est men and the 835th wealth­i­est in the world.

Deeply con­cerned with his Ju­daism, one of his main char­i­ta­ble mis­sions was to rec­on­cile Sephardi and Ashke­nazi dif­fer­ences and he do­nated to many Jewish char­i­ties in Brazil. He spent much time fund­ing syn­a­gogues and com­mu­nity cen­tres, but he fi­nanced ed­u­ca­tion and health, too. He was a mem­ber of Brazil’s most pow­er­ful Jewish busi­ness clan who re­mained at­tached to their roots de­spite en­tre­pre­neur­ial suc­cess.

Moise was one of eight chil­dren and the third of four sons born to Ja­cob Safra, a Sephardi Jew from Aleppo, a banker trad­ing in gold in Beirut, a busi­ness he had es­tab­lished in 1920. It was in fact a bank­ing dy­nasty dat­ing back to the Ot­tomon Em­pire, which orig­i­nally fi­nanced the car­a­van trade be­tween be­tween Aleppo, Con­stantino­ple and Alexan­dria.

The three broth­ers em­i­grated from Beirut in the wake of an­tisemitic ri­ots at the birth of the State of Is­rael in 1948. Af­ter a spell in Italy they made the move to Brazil with other Jewish mi­grants. There they founded the Banco Safra which grew to be­come one of the largest pri­vate banks in the coun­try.

Each brother, hav­ing in­her­ited the Safra pa­ter­nal busi­ness acu­men, grew his own busi­ness port­fo­lio to the tune of bil­lions of dol­lars. Their hall­mark was based on a de­cep­tively sim­ple doc­trine handed to them by their fa­ther. It was al­ways to look the cus­tomer in the eye –“for eyes tell more than bal­ance sheets”. An­other piece of ad­vice that Joseph never for­got was not to be­come too high pro­file in their busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties, an in­tu­itive re­sponse to the risk of kid­nap. One of their neph­ews was in fact kid­napped, and with this in mind, the broth­ers tended to com­mute by he­li­copter, backed by a squad of Is­raeli agent-trained body­guards.

Af­ter Mose’s el­dest brother Edmond moved on to Geneva and New York in 1956, to pur­sue bank­ing in­ter­ests of his own, Moise and the youngest brother Joseph, started to build the Safra Group ex­pand­ing its bank­ing in­ter­ests to New York and Lux­em­bourg. They spread their wings into mo­bile phones, tim­ber and even cat­tle ranch­ing, and ac­quired in 1990 Is­rael’s 5th largest bank, First In­ter­na­tional. But in 1999 Edmond, not in the best of health, was killed in an ar­son at­tack on his pent­house in Monte Carlo. Moise’s wife Chella Co­hen be­came trea­surer of the World Jewish Congress.

In 2006 he sold his half-share in the main busi­ness group to Joseph for some $2.5 bil­lion af­ter re­puted dis­agree­ment over the fu­ture di­rec­tion of the busi­ness, but they con­tin­ued to work to­gether with their cel­lu­lose pulp busi­ness. Moise’s Bri­tish in­vest­ments in­cluded a ma­jor de­vel­op­ment in the City of Lon­don in 2012, to the tune of nearly £500 mil­lion, and an $810 mil­lion of­fice build­ing in Lon­don .

Last year Moise’s name was linked with Chi­nese bil­lion­aire Zhang Zin in the ac­qui­si­tion of a 40 per cent stake in the Gen­eral Mo­tors build­ing in Mid­town Man­hat­tan. The com­mu­nity cen­tre he was build­ing for Syr­ian Jews on Man­hat­tan’s Up­per East Side is due to be com­pleted this year and will bear his name. He is sur­vived by Chella, their three sons and two daugh­ters.

Moise Safra: dol­lar bil­lion­aire who al­ways looked the cus­tomer in the eye: “eyes tell more than bal­ance sheets”

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