The richest banker: how Joseph Safra earned $15.7 billion

Brazilian Joseph Safra's fortune reached $15.7 billion, according to the assessment of Forbes; he is the richest banker in the world and the representative of the fourth generation of a trading dynasty, which had grown rich in the nineteenth century.
Origin source
"Being a banker is incorporated into the DNA of Safra family" - a few years ago he told reporters Euromoney partner of British investment fund Apax Partners LLP Walter Pyashek its long-standing partner, the patriarch of the Brazilian banking Joseph (Jose) Zafra. 75-year-old Brazilian - the second most wealthy man in his own country. His condition (15 October) Forbes magazine estimated at $ 15.6 billion, in the world ranking of billionaires, he takes the 52 th place, but the first - among financiers.

The basis of the well-being of Joseph Safra is a Brazilian bank Banco Safra, as well as a Swiss credit institution J.Safra Sarasin. In addition, it owns Safra National Bank of New York and many properties around the world. Under their management, estimated to The Financial Times, are at least $ 200 billion.

Financial DNA

Safra positions in the Forbes ranking are due not only to his personal talent, but also the origin - it comes from a Jewish financial dynasty whose wealth dates back to the Ottoman Empire and were multiplied in the last fifty years. Joseph and his family almost did not give interviews, and whereinMaintenance of banks and financial companies Clan rarely found in the media. Family Closeness spawned numerous rumors - in the 1980-1990-s controlled Edmond Safra, the elder brother of Joseph, the banks were suspected of having links to the Russian mafia, money laundering and possible involvement in the scam "Iran-Contra".

Joseph Safra is the fourth generation of the banking dynasty. Its foundation was laid in the late XIX century in Syrian Aleppo, then belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Safra family to invest in commerce between the major trading centers of the empire, Aleppo, Alexandria and Constantinople, at the same time pritorgovyvaya gold. The very name "Safra" can be translated from Arabic as "yellow" or "gold". By the beginning of XX century Zafra turned into the most famous banking house of the Ottoman Empire. After the defeat of Turkey in World War one of the Safra brothers, Jacob, moved to Beirut, which came under French control. In Lebanon Safra became the main bankers for Sephardic - Jewish settlers from the Iberian Peninsula.

Jacob was the father of four sons of Eli, Edmond, Moiseya (Moise) and Joseph. Among them were two prominent financiers - Edmond, born in 1932, and Joseph, who was his junior by seven years.

After World War II Zafra had to leave the Middle East: following the first Arab-Israeli war, the bankers decided to try his luck in the New World, and in 1952 settled in Brazil. "My father believed that World War III is not far off," - later recalled Joseph. Already three years later launched the Safra in Sao Paulo - the economic capital of the largest country in Latin America - the banking business. Then Edmond, who for decades was considered the most talented of the Safra clan, decided to start their own business. He moved to Europe, and then in the United States.

José Safra in figures

52th place is occupied by a businessman in the list of the richest people in the world as of October 15th. A year earlier, he was on 55 place.

2nd position it occupies in the list of the richest Brazilians, second only to Jorge Paulo Lehmann, earned more than $ 20 billion in stocks in the world's largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev

$ 2min 2006. JPL Safra paid for redemption of the share of his brother Moses in business Safra Group

$ 200 billion is managed by Safra Group worldwide

$ 1.2 billion paid for Safra London Skyscraper "Gherkin" in November 2014

Brazilian success

Joseph with Moses remained in Brazil. After the departure of his older brother is Joseph Safra banking became the motor of business: all the family's financial assets were merged into Banco Safra SA under its control, but shares in the business, Joseph, Moses and divided equally. By the early 2000s, Joseph Safra also owned Safra National Bank of New York, Luxembourg Safra Luxembourg, interests in First International Bank of Israel, shares a large paper mill Aracruz, pastoral economy.

"No other Jewish family in Brazil and some of the little Brazilian family directly can be compared with Safra scale their business interests. They are also very Brazilian and international ", - says the professor of the history of Connecticut College Jeffrey Lesser, who studied the Jewish Diaspora in this Latin American country.

Despite the long-term stay in BrazLeah, Joseph did not consider it their homeland. "Sometimes I prefer not to speak Portuguese, since the fear of being misunderstood," - he said in an interview with the Brazilian edition of Veja in 1998. The Safra family said in Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic, and the media speculated that the records of the transactions recorded in a special dialect of Arabic, which was known only to the educated Sephardim.

The basis of the Safra business has historically accounted for the provision of services of private banking and asset management wealth wealthy clients. In the few interviews and media articles Joseph appears patriarchal banker "old school." His staff have to put up with the frequent changes of the boss's mood. "I say what I think. I may be right or wrong. Then I simply turning the page. People know that I do not want to hurt anyone, "- he said.

Familiar businessman assert that he is an exemplary workaholic who never ceases to do business even on vacation. We know that Joseph Safra regularly rings itstheir top managers, regardless of the fact they are in any time zone. They are expected to leave the willingness on business in the other part of the world at any time of the day or night. "You can not isolate themselves from the world. People should be able to take responsibility, "- said Safra.

Safra is not always met with success: in the 2000s he spent several unsuccessful transactions. Among them were investments in telecommunications company BCP, for which one of the Safra Group units (combines financial business Joseph) in 1998 acquired for $ 2.6 billion cellular license for broadcasting in São Paulo. But then the owners were forced to cede its share of only a few hundred million dollars. In 2009, Aracruz Celulose, the world leader in the market of bleached eucalyptus pulp, was acquired from Safra Group rivals by the government, which feared its bankruptcy. In 2009, the FT reported that the Safra Group customers may have been affected by the scam Bernard Madoff. Then the representatives of the company refuted this assumption, but two years later a trustee representing the depositors of the pyramid Madoff, has filed a lawsuit on their behalf to the Safra National Bank of New York. The bank was accused of concealing information about the company Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

Finally, critics have argued that independent banks Safra Group will not be able to compete with international giants banks, which represent the full range of services. Pyashek then assured Euromoney, that the independence of Banco Safra continue for the foreseeable future. "Bank Safra belongs to one owner - the family. It will remain in this business. Everything will remain unchanged. We do not consider the option of selling to another bank ", - said the financier.

This position has not changed over the past five years. He stood only a question of who will go in the future family business that Joseph in 2006, concentrated in his hands - his elder brother Moses sold him his share of the sum of just under $ 2 billion Joseph's three sons -. Jacob, Alberto and David. Who among them will succeed his father - is still unknown. By tradition, should take over the reins of the eldest son, but Safra Dynasty have been an exception to this unwritten rule.

Jose Zafra


Safra, whose family spoke Arabic, Hebrew, ispanscom, English and French, not always uses native Brazilian Portuguese for fear of being misunderstood.


Businessman hires for its protection of Brazilians trained by Mossad. His brother Edmond preferred guards Israelis and was obsessed with security.


Safra is known as a giver of wives jewelry staff who are delayed at work. He is known as a tough leader who can bring a person to work, regardless of time of day or time zone.


Safra enjoys swimming and swims at least 500 m per day.


Safra has repeatedly expressed regret in connection with too luxurious, in his view, the house on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. The villa is close to the favelas - the slums of Brazil.

billions of transactions

Meanwhile, Joseph does not go away from the business management. In 2014, he was reminded of himself in connection with two major transactions. In October last year, and another Brazilian Safra family Kutral, Co-owners of food company Sucocitrico Cutrale Ltda, acquired the largest US exporter Chiquita fruit. The deal amounted to $ 1.3 billion. In November of the same year, Joseph said that bought the iconic skyscraper "Gherkin" in London. It was designed by Norman Foster in 2004 and immediately became one of the symbols of the city. Ownership of the Safra Group skyscraper cost $ 1.2 billion.

In 2015, Safra-controlled financial institutions work with wealthy clients around the world, guided by the motto Jacob Safra: "If you want to go swimming on the financial waves, then build your bank as the boat, so that it can survive any storm."

Characterizing the individual clan members, all observers noted their love of privacy and security. Safra Security consists of Brazilians that have passed proficiency in the Israeli intelligence Mossad. In Sao Paulo, Joseph and his brother used a helicopter to get from the suburbs to the office. They believed that in this way they minimize the possibility of assassination or kidnapping. One of the nephews of Joseph, Ezekiel, was once kidnapped for the purpose of sexcheniya ransom. The desire to protect ourselves as much as possible has other reasons. In December 1999, in Monaco when not completely clarified circumstances lost their eldest brother Edmond. It was he who was considered the brightest and most successful among the sons of Jacob.

In the shadow of older brother

Edmond Safra died December 3, 1999 in his apartment in Monaco. He suffocated in the "safe room" - a place designed to cover a robbery. With him died the nurse Vivian Torrente. Another satellite billionaire - nurse and a former commando Ted Maher - got stabbed, he claimed that the house was attacked. Upon further investigation it was found that the arsonist was Maher himself, who thus hoped to receive from the employer gratitude for saving his life.

The unexpected death of Edmond led to the emergence of rumors that it could be involved in the Russian mafia - in 1998-1999 he worked with the FBI to investigate money laundering Russian criminal groups. In the second half of the 1990s, he tried to invest in Russia:in 1996 Edmond has become a co-investor fund Hermitage Capital in which the partner is an investor William Browder, who gained fame in the era of Vladimir Putin as the employer of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in 2009 in the "Sailor's Silence". He came out of the fund in 1999.

In the second half of the XX century Safra banking family not associated with Joseph or Moses, namely, Edmond. After he left Brazil, Edmond settled in Geneva. There in 1966 he launched the Trade Development Bank (TRD). Four years later in New York opened the Republic National Bank of New York. In 1983, Edmond sold TRD American Express for $ 550 million.

Soon Edmond disappointed in the work with the Americans left the bank, and promised not to compete with former colleagues in Geneva for three years. American Express suspected that the Brazilian violates the agreement and launched an investigation. At some point, according to the then head of the James Robinson III of AmEx, it went out of control. The company began to spread rumors that Edmond and its banks may be involved in the laundering of funds derived from drug trafficking, as well as to the scam "Iran-Contra" (foritichesky scandal in the United States in the 1980s, when it became known that the senior members of the administration to supply arms to Iran in defiance of the arms embargo, and the proceeds were transported to the Nicaraguan "contras"). Subsequent trials ended in victory for Edmond. American Express publicly apologized and paid him $ 8 million. However, after that Edmond almost ceased to communicate with the press. In 1999, he sold Republic National Bank British HSBC Holdings for $ 10.3 billion.

In recent years, relations soured Edmond and Joseph. The younger brother of the inheritance has not received - half state Edmond ($ 800 million) departed his wife Lily, half went to charity.