Philanthropist and close to Prince Charles, Lily Safra died of cancer at the age of 87 on July 9. Her life was marked by tragedy: the supposed suicide of a first husband, the death of a son and a fourth husband who disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Four weddings, three funerals and a few good works. The life of Lily Safra was a Hollywood film: it has just ended this Saturday, July 9, when the Brazilian-Monegasque billionaire succumbed to cancer and old age – she was 87 years old.
The wealthy socialite, known to the English as "Gilded Lily", has known too many tragedies for one lifetime. Some of them have also allowed Lily, a blonde and distinguished woman, to consolidate her fortune. “In all things misfortune is good”, some will say. Others are still wondering if Lily hadn't somehow planned the events.
Born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1934, Lily Watkins grew up in Rio de Janeiro. Her father is an engineer in the railroad sector, and little Lily already frequents Brazilian high society. At 17, after emigrating to Uruguay, Lily married a wealthy Argentinian named Mario Cohen. Together they have three children: Claudio, Eduardo and Adriana. They separate ten years later.
The legend of Lily Safra
The legend of Lily Safra begins on the occasion of a second marriage: in 1965, the Brazilian meets Alfredo Monteverde, a wealthy Italian of the Jewish faith who fled Nazi persecution in South America. The man is at the head of a company in the household appliances sector – he is also, incidentally, chronically depressed. Four years after their marriage, Alfredo puts an end to his life in strange circumstances: the man would have shot himself a first bullet in the heart… then a second. The police who are investigating the circumstances of the death find only one bullet near the body and conclude, however, that it was a suicide. The investigators will explain, a few years after the facts, to have lost the murder weapon as well as the casing. As for Lily, she inherits Alfredo's fortune.
In 1969, a wealthy banker falls in love with the widow Lily Monteverde, a beautiful Brazilian he met in London. Edmond Safra, a Lebanese Jew who emigrated to Brazil, is the head of a Swiss bank. The man is not appreciated by the Watkins family: he is Sephardic, they are Ashkenazi. But love always triumphs: Lily marries Safra in 1976. Then begins, for the Brazilian, an existence made up of social evenings, trips in private jets and stays in sumptuous residences in Monaco, Geneva and New York. The couple frequented the biggest stars of their time, such as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, the Aga Khan and Frank Sinatra.
In 1989, when she was at the height of her notoriety, Lily Safra had to face a tragic loss: her 30-year-old son Claudio and her 4-year-old granddaughter died in a car accident. Lily is still in mourning when, a year later, doctors tell her husband Edmond that he has Parkinson's disease.
During the 1990s, the situation of the Swiss banker deteriorated. Over the years, and probably because of his illness, Edmond Safra developed paranoid disorders. He has all his outbuildings equipped with high-tech security systems, employs soldiers and former members of the Mossad, Israeli intelligence, as carers. The billionaire takes refuge in the twenty rooms of his Monegasque villa and makes almost no public appearance.
In 1999, a fire broke out in his Rocher residence. The businessman takes refuge in a "panic room", a room specially designed as an impenetrable shelter in the event of an attack. Edmond Safra, convinced that intruders want his life, refuses to leave and flee the burning villa. He died of asphyxiation before the firefighters arrived.
The death of fourth husband
The death of this wealthy fourth husband – if we count Samuel Bendahan, to whom Lily was briefly married in 1972 – adds to the mystery surrounding Mrs. Safra. In Monaco, the police investigation is also heading towards the thesis of arson: Ted Maher, a domestic worker and former soldier, admits having started the fire for an obscure reason for settling accounts between colleagues . The fire quickly became uncontrollable. The man has since changed his version of the facts, claiming to have cracked down and confessed to the crime under pressure. Lily, who was in another wing of the villa, escapes without a scratch. According to Swiss Leaks, she would have received 800 million dollars in inheritance after the death of the banker. The sisters of Edmond Safra subsequently took legal action to try to recover part of this fortune, in vain.
Did "Gilded Lily" organize the assassination of her various husbands? It is unlikely that a plan to asphyxiate Edmond could have seemed viable to the billionaire: it was impossible for her to know how long the firefighters would take to get there. The Brazilian-Monegasque, however, takes the secret to her grave, she who has always declined interviews on the subject. After the death of Edmond, the wealthy heiress who devoted part of her fortune to good works, donated more than ten million euros to research against Parkinson's disease.
Author: Michael Zippo
Sources: VanityFair, IO Donn