There’s a story behind the Lebanese Jewish billionaire Joseph Safra being the richest banker in the world, and it’s the story of his brother Edmond and Lily, his Brazilian-Monegasque sweetheart.
Edmond Safra, Joseph’s brother, is the reason behind the success and the wealth of the Safra family in the new Safra-era. Both Joseph and Edmond are siblings of eight others from the Jewish Lebanese parents Jacob and Esther, born during the Ottoman Empire.
According to The Guardian, the Safra dynasty, as it’s known today, was initially born in 1939 with the great-great-grandfather of Edmond Safra. “The Lebanese Jewish billionaire family became the most trusted bankers of the Ottoman Empire, most notable for facilitating trade between Alexandria, Aleppo, and Istanbul.”
Edmond would accompany his father to their bank empire at the young age of 16. He was only 24 years old when he established the Trade Development Bank in Geneva, Switzerland.
Young Edmond’s prowess began to shine as he turned the one million dollar bank to a family empire with assets surpassing $5 billion by the early 1980s, according to Businessweek.
The banker soon took over the banking world in the United States, to become one of the richest and most established bankers in the world. Edmond at the age of 44 found everything he ever dreamt of, except for a loving partner.
With great wealth comes great fear of exploitation and golddiggers. For years, Edmond was afraid of falling in love or getting married in fear of someone using him for his money. That is, before he met Lily.
Lily Watkins was already a billionaire heiress when she met Edmond for financial counseling after her second husband committed suicide. There was something about Lily’s financial independence and obvious beauty that attracted the middle-aged billionaire.
However, even though the Safra brothers wanted their golden boy to have a child that can carry on Edmond’s dream of a thousand-year-old Safra bank, they disapproved of Lily.
According to Vanity Fair, “not only was she beyond childbearing age, but she was also under some scrutiny for the suicide of her husband. This was not the woman for Edmond, the Safra brothers said.”
Edmond felt safe at his Monaco home that he did not feel the need for bodyguards. The banker and his Filipino nurse suffocated by fumes in a fire deliberately lit by his other nurse American Ted Maher, an ex-green beret turned registered nurse.
Ted Maher was arrested for starting the fire. Maher’s lawyer Michael Griffith explained, “He did not intend to kill Mr. Safra. He just wanted Mr. Safra to appreciate him more. He loved Mr. Safra. This was the best job of his life.”
Ted Maher ended confessing to starting the fire to draw attention on himself, according to Monaco’s chief prosecutor, Daniel Serdet, back then. Maher claimed that he was “jealous” of Mr. Safra’s seven other nurses.
On December 6th, Edmond Safra was buried in Geneva. Ted Maher was convicted and released eight years later, in October 2007.
According to Forbes, “Edmond left most of his fortune to the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, but he also left Lily enough assets to make her a billionaire.”
Forbes recently listed Lily Safra among the billionaires of the world in its 2020 list, ranking her #1614. Her net worth is estimated at $1.3 B; $340 million of which came from her sale in 2009 of a stake in Brazil she had inherited from a previous husband.