Joseph Safra in corporate media



against the panegyrics. for one rigorous and truthful reporting of facts

                                “Better than robbing banks is founding one” (Bertolt Brecht)

The classist character of journalism in the Folha de S. Paul was amply evidenced by the texts that announced the death of banker Joseph Safra. In the four articles published – strictly speaking, authentic panegyrics –, in addition to the qualities of the remarkable “entrepreneur”, his initiatives as a great patron and philanthropist “always committed to maintaining the tradition of devotion to worthy causes” are exalted. In one of the texts, we also learn that the biggest banker in the world had a sensitive soul, as he would have regretted the construction of his 11 m2 mansion – which was no longer his residence in recent years –, located hundreds of meters from the miserable houses of slum dwellers in the Morumbi neighborhood, in the capital of São Paulo…

Wouldn't a journalism committed to the rigorous and truthful reporting of facts require that the reader be aware of the entire business and political trajectory of a public figure, not just his “success in the business world”?

By editing four articles that withhold from its reader information about well-known controversies in which the deceased victor was involved, the Folha de S. Paul, unambiguously, takes sides. Not at the “service of Brazil”, but of the dominant social and economic sectors in the country.

The same can be said about coverage in other corporate media outlets. Is it possible to imagine that the death of a political leader – committed to the defense of popular causes – would receive only praise and eloquent eulogies from the editors of these bodies?

The public “controversies” in which the Safra Group was involved and the philanthropic gestures of the richest man in Brazil are reported in the careful text (below) by a collective of Brazilian historians.

(Gaius Navarro of Toledo)

Joseph Safra

Built in an eclectic style, with details inspired by the architecture of the Palace of Versailles, the banker's mansion has 130 rooms spread over five floors and a complete infrastructure that includes a helipad, nine elevators, energy input capable of supplying a city of 2.000 inhabitants and up to an underground pool. The built area of ​​the mansion is 11.000 square meters – almost twice the size of the Ipiranga Museum. The residence ranks as one of the most expensive properties in the world. Despite this, the mansion was almost unused, as Joseph Safra spent the last few decades living in one of his properties in Switzerland.

Died at the age of 82, Joseph Safra was the richest man in Brazil, with an estimated fortune of 120 billion reais. He was also the richest banker in the world. Banco Safra is the 4th largest private bank in the country, with assets in excess of 230 billion reais. In 2019, the institution's net profit was 2,2 billion reais – an amount entirely dedicated to increasing its owner's equity, since Banco Safra is a privately held company and Brazil is one of only two countries in the world that do not charge taxes on the distribution of profits and dividends. Safra's heirs will also be able to enjoy their fortune almost entirely, as Brazil has one of the lowest inheritance tax rates in the world.

Joseph Safra was born into a Syrian-Lebanese banking family of Jewish descent. The family, owner of Banco Jacob E. Safra, immigrated to Brazil in the 50s, founding Banco Safra SA in 1957. The family patriarch, Jacob Safra, bequeathed a large fortune to his three heirs – Joseph, Edmond and Moise. Edmond died in an arson attack and Moise sold his stake in the financial institution to his brother, who became the sole controller of the bank.

Supporters of the military dictatorship, the Safra family managed to increase their assets exponentially in the 60s thanks to their good relationship with the regime's high bureaucracy. The Safra benefited enormously from the incentives given by the federal government to entrepreneurs in the South and Southeast for the acquisition of large tracts of land at ridiculous prices, with fiscal incentives from the Superintendence for the Development of the Amazon (Sudam). In 1967, the Safra family acquired a gigantic estate of 50 hectares in the Araguaia Basin, a region traditionally occupied by the Xavante people, expelled by the military in order to clear the way for the commercial exploitation of the territory. The area of ​​Pantanal vegetation was entirely deforested for cattle raising and soybean planting, under the management of two companies belonging to the Safra Group – Pastoril Agropecuária Couto Magalhães SA and Agropecuária Potrillo SA

Years later, Joseph Safra would expand his investments in the agricultural sector, forming a joint venture with Cutrale (a gigantic corporation in the citrus sector) to acquire, at a cost of 1,3 billion dollars, the American multinational Chiquita Brands. The company is the successor to the United Fruit Company, which throughout the 1928th century actively financed the overthrow of Latin American democracies, helping to consolidate in power a series of military dictatorships subordinated to US corporate interests. Among several other criminal actions, the United Fruit Company was responsible for the infamous Banana Massacre of XNUMX, when a thousand striking workers were machine-gunned in the municipality of Aracataca, Colombia. The Safra Group also co-owns Aracruz Celulose, the world's largest producer of bleached pulp. Aracruz is accused of illegally occupying the lands of indigenous peoples and quilombolas and of causing serious environmental damage, including the contamination of ecosystems with dioxin, a highly carcinogenic material.

Joseph Safra has been the subject of several criminal investigations over the past decade. Under Operation Zelotes, the banker was accused of paying 15,3 million reais in bribes to obtain favorable positions from the Administrative Council of Tax Appeals (CARF), a body of the Federal Revenue Service. Safra even had part of his assets temporarily blocked during the investigation, but was acquitted, despite the prosecutors' accusations supporting his direct involvement in the scheme. In 2019, as a result of Operation Lava Jato, the Swiss Public Ministry accused Banco Safra of covering up money from corruption and sentenced Joseph Safra to pay a fine of US$10 million for having conducted fraudulent operations on behalf of Paulo Maluf. In Brazil, Safra was accused of participating in a money laundering scheme by the money changer Dario Messer, but the prosecutors of the Lava Jato task force in Curitiba, headed by Deltan Dallagnol, decided to file the accusations without any investigation into the content of the delation.

After the banker's death, the Brazilian press ignored all these controversies, preferring to extol his “entrepreneurial spirit” and his “philanthropic activities”, treated in a generic way, without detailing the scope of this legacy. The economy of details is explained by the irrelevance for the national public. Joseph Safra's philanthropic actions are concentrated almost entirely in the United States and Israel: scholarships for Jewish students and financial contributions to synagogues, universities and Israeli medical centers. Safra did not donate a penny to rebuild the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, but bequeathed a precious treasure to the Israel Museum – an original manuscript by Einstein on the Theory of Relativity, purchased at an auction in New York for a few million dollars. In Brazil, Joseph Safra's philanthropic activity was limited to editing catalogs, donating five copies of Rodin statues to the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, financial contributions to private hospitals frequented by the São Paulo elite, such as Sírio Libanês and Albert Einstein , in addition to the renovation of the Beit Yaacov Synagogue, a temple located among the luxurious homes in the upscale neighborhood of Higienópolis, in the central region of São Paulo.

* Gaius Navarro of Toledo is a retired professor at Unicamp. He is the author, among other books, of Iseb: Factory of ideologies(Rile up). Editor of the site marxismo21.

*Think History is a collective of historians.

Article published on the Facebook Thinking about history – History Museum.


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