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Joseph Safra, the world’s richest banker and the wealthiest person in Brazil, has died at age 82

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Joseph Safra, the world’s richest banker and the wealthiest person in Brazil, has died at age 82. He died of natural causes, according to a statement from his representative. 

Safra descended from a Syrian banking family. With his brother Moise (d. 2014) he built one of Brazil’s largest banks, Banco Safra, plus owned Safra National Bank of New York and, in Switzerland, the J. Safra Sarasin bank. Forbes estimates that Joseph Safra’s net worth was $23.2 billion when he died.  

Safra, who was born in 1938 in Lebanon, was a reserved man who shunned the spotlight and the press. He and his brother Moise first appeared on Forbes list of the world’s billionaires in 2000 with a shared fortune of $3 billion. The brothers split in 2006; Joseph bought half of their financial empire — including Banco Safra, then Brazil’s 8th-largest bank, Safra National Bank of New York and Banque Safra-Luxembourg — from Moise for an undisclosed sum. 

Safra’s real estate holdings are vast. In 2014 he bought a skyscraper in London nicknamed the Gherkin for an estimated $1 billion. He had tried to get approval to build a striking skyscraper in London, dubbed the Tulip, but the city’s mayor rejected the proposal in 2019. Safra appealed the decision.

Joseph Safra also owns 50% of banana grower Chiquita Brands International; the other 50% is owned by Brazilian orange juice billionaire Jose Cutrale.

Joseph and Moise’s brother Edmond Safra built a separate multi-billion dollar banking fortune and died in a fire in his home in Monaco in 1999. His nurse later admitted to setting the fire. Edmond left part of his fortune to his wife, Lily Safra.

Joseph Safra is survived by his wife, Vicky, whom he married in 1969, their four children and 14 grandchildren. His oldest son, Jacob, is responsible for J. Safra Sarasin in Switerzland, Safra National Bank of New York and real estate holdings across the U.S. His son David manages Banco Safra in Sao Paulo; his son Alberto left the board of the bank in 2019.

Source: Forbes