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Billionaire Alberto Safra Sues His Own Mother—and Two Siblings

Chris Helgren/Reuters
Chris Helgren/Reuters

Banking heir and billionaire Alberto Safra has sued his mother and two of his brothers amid a dispute over his late father’s fortune.

Safra’s suit, filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court, accuses his family members of purposely diluting his stake in the holding company for Safra National Bank of New York in an effort to push him out of the family banking empire.

Safra and his family have for years been involved in a battle over the fortune of his father, Joseph Safra, formerly the richest person in Brazil and director of banking behemoth the Safra Group. After his father’s death in 2020, Alberto contended he had been wrongly written out of the will and his father’s $20 billion-plus empire. (A spokesperson for the family denied this.)

Monday’s filing concerns just one of those companies, SNBNY Holdings, the holding company for the Safra National Bank of New York, which has more than $9 billion in assets. Safra alleges that in December 2019, as his father’s health was deteriorating, his mother and brothers conspired to convince Joseph to pass resolutions that could dilute his shares in the company from 28 percent to 13.4 percent.

Safra contends that his father was “incapable of understanding, planning, or carrying out the sophisticated dilution transaction” at the time due to his health condition, and that his family abused this in order to force their wishes through.

The billionaire further alleges that his family members doubled the reported value of the bank—increasing it by $870 million in 2019—in order to set off the dilution of his shares, then “substantially wrote down that value the following year.”

Finally, he claims his family has failed to recognize his pick for board director, which he claims the company’s articles of association entitle him to appoint.

“The conduct alleged in this action was part of an ongoing, coordinated effort by the Family Defendants to dilute Alberto’s ownership interests in businesses owned by the Safra family around the globe, for which Alberto is seeking relief in multiple jurisdictions,” the complaint states.

Lawyers for Safra said in a statement that he was “compelled to file a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court to protect his rights and interests.

“It is unfortunate that David and Jacob Safra chose to take such improper actions against him,” said attorney Michael Carlinsky.

A spokesperson for the Safra family pushed back in a statement claiming Joseph Safra willingly wrote his son out of the will. The family said Safra was angered when Alberto left his position at one of the family's banks and started a competing company, taking some of the bank's executives with him.

“Now Alberto promotes a dispute against the whole family, saying that his father would have no reason to do what he did, claiming it was a conspiracy to harm him,” the family's spokesperson said.

“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.”

The dispute between the family members started in 2008, when David joined Alberto at the Brazilian-based Banco Safra. Alberto claims his younger brother embarked an a campaign for power at the company, leading to disagreements between the two that their father often had to smooth over. When Joseph became too ill to “ensure a unified working environment,” Alberto claims, he was forced to leave the company and form his own asset management group.

As Joseph's health continued to decline, he says, the family pushed him out of a group text concerning his father's condition, creating a “separate electronic chat message group in order to exclude Alberto from discussions about Joseph’s health and treatment.” He also claims they hand-picked a doctor to examine Joseph and declare him mentally fit to make estate planning changes.

“The Family Defendants kept secret from Alberto that they had hired [the doctor], depriving Alberto of the opportunity to have a doctor of his choosing examine Joseph or otherwise assess Joseph’s mental condition or capacity,” the lawsuit claims.

It was then that the family convinced Jospeh to change his will and reduce Alberto's shares in SNBNY to 13.4 percent, he claims. He alleges the move also reduced his voting rights from approximately 15.5 percent to approximately 7.4 percent, which caused “significant repercussions for Alberto’s level of control and oversight over the affairs of SNBNY.”

Bloomberg reported last year that Safra was planning to sell his stake in the family businesses to his siblings in order to fund his new investment firm. But his complaint asks the court to restore the shares he says were taken from him and force the family to acknowledge his pick for director of the company.

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