A son of one of the world’s richest bankers, the late Joseph Safra, sued his mother and two brothers in a bid to regain what he claims is his rightful share in New York’s Safra National Bank.
Alberto Safra claims his family members, along with directors of a bank holding company, wrongfully diluted his 28% share and blocked him from seating his own director, according to a suit filed Monday in New York state court. The case is the latest escalation in a legal battle among family members over what Alberto Safra claims is an international business empire worth about $25 billion.
Joseph Safra, died in 2020 at the age of 82. Alberto Safra in 2021 sued in New York federal court to obtain evidence for what he said was an attempt to challenge his father’s wills. Safra claimed his father, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, lacked the mental capacity to execute three new wills in November and December 2019. He’s suing his mother, Vicky Safra and brothers Jacob and David Safra. His sister, Esther Safra Dayan, isn’t a party to the suit.
Alberto claims his family members and the directors improperly diluted his share to 13.5%, less than half what he is due. Safra National Bank, which isn’t a defendant in the New York suit, has more than $9 billion in assets, according to the complaint.
“The family regrets the path taken by Alberto, who first attacked his father while he was alive and is now attacking his memory, and refutes his allegations,” a spokesman for the Safra family members said in a statement Monday.
Alberto’s mother and brothers claim he left his position at Brazil’s Banco Safra SA before Joseph’s death, taking several Safra executives with him to launch a competing business, in defiance of appeals from his father, according to the statement. They say Joseph eventually “disowned” Alberto and changed his wills to reduce his share.
Alberto claims his family and the holding company directors engaged in a series of transactions beginning in 2019 to inflate the value of the holding company, SNBNY Holdings Ltd., issue new shares, then write them down despite increasing profits. The moves suggest that “defendants engaged in financial or accounting malfeasance in support of their efforts to dilute Alberto’s holdings,” he said in the complaint.
Alberto also claims SNBNY is using a pending review by the Federal Reserve Bank as a pretext to avoid recognizing his appointment to the company’s board, limiting his legitimate oversight and governance powers.
Safra group’s $25 billion in assets include SBNY and Safra National Bank; Banco Safra, one of Brazil’s biggest commercial banks; and JS International Holding Ltd., the parent of companies including Chiquita Brands International Inc. and Bank J. Safra Sarasin, a private bank based in Switzerland, Alberto claimed in the complaint.
In addition to litigation in New York, there are “ongoing proceedings” relating to Joseph’s estate and the alleged dilution of Alberto’s share, in Switzerland and London, according to the complaint.
“Because of aggressive illegal acts taken against him by his brothers, Alberto Safra was compelled to file a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court to protect his rights and interests,” Michael Carlinsky, a lawyer for Alberto, said in an emailed statement. “It is unfortunate that David and Jacob Safra chose to take such illegal actions against him. Through this lawsuit, Alberto seeks to vindicate his rights.”
“All actions taken by the family with respect to Alberto Safra were legal,” a spokesman for Alberto’s mother and brothers said in response.
Vicky Safra and family have a net worth of $18 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index. The J. Safra Group has more than $300 billion of assets under management in over 25 countries, according to its website.
The Safra banking fortune traces its roots to Aleppo, Syria, where the family set up Safra Freres & Cie in the 1840s to finance camel trade caravans during the Ottoman Empire. It was also the birthplace of Jacob Safra, who moved the family to Brazil in 1953, where he established a company to trade in metals, machinery and cattle, and later created a bank.
Joseph Safra spent 2 billion francs ($2.1 billion) in 2012 to acquire Bank Sarasin, a wealth-management company based in Basel, Switzerland. He merged it into the parent company for his wealth units in Europe and the Caribbean, creating J. Safra Sarasin.
The case is Safra v. SNBNY Holdings Ltd., New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
--With assistance from Julia Leite and Rachel Gamarski.
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