01/15/2012

Geneva private bank big jet?

A frequent visitor to Geneva and Zurich is a big Boeing 737 apparently belonging to the Safra Group, which has a private bank in Geneva. The bank has an interesting history.


The Boeing 737 aircraft is registered as PR-BBS: a registration belonging to Brazil. It has been seen quite often (on average more than once per month) at Geneva airport for some years, and also makes regular visits to Zurich and Brazil. The registration appears to belong to the "Grupo Safra", a banking enterprise founded in Beirut in 1920 by Jacob Safra, member of a family of Sephardic Jews. This is confirmed in the Remarks field of a photograph taken at Geneva airport last year by Claude Davet, showing the aircraft (and other private jets of a more normal size!). Many other photographs are available via a planespotters web site, showing that the aircraft originally belonged to Netjets and has a "VIP" configuration!

According to Wikipedia, in 1956 Jacob Safra (a descendant of the original Jacob) decided upon Geneva as the headquarters of the family banking enterprise. This enterprise also is present in Zurich, Lugano, Gibralter and Monaco (the latter two locations may be thought to have something to do with rich people not wanting to pay too much tax!).

The Safra family was reported to have suffered a tragedy in 1999, when Edmond Jacob Safra, described as a billionaire banker suffering from Parkinson's disease, died in a fire, probably not accidental, in his Monaco penthouse. Having recently seen press reports of the intolerance of ultra-religious extremists, both Jewish and Muslim, it was nice to read in his obituary the remark that

He was a true Sephardi in the sense of believing in tolerance or moderation

At the time when Bernie Madoff was getting near to being discovered for his Ponzi scheme, it was suspected that the Gibraltar branch of the Safra bank was one of the feeder funds used to invest money with Madoff. Just a few months before his arrest, it was reported that Madoff had wired 150 million dollars to the Gibralter bank of the Safra family, which led to the bank being sued by the Madoff trustee for the return of this money (reported as the very first clawback attempt for such Madoff moneys).

The motto of the bank, which is shown on their Web site, is

If you choose to sail upon the seas of banking, build your bank as you would your boat, with the strength to sail safely through any storm.

Given the current storms in the financial markes world-wide, one can hope that Swiss banks have all taken this motto to heart.

It is interesting to know that the Safra bank has such a large VIP-configured Boeing 737 at its disposition: most banks seem normally to rely on much smaller private jets. One might wonder how many people it carries around, and why!

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