Gilded Lily: Lily Safra: The Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows - Isabel Vincent (2010)
Lily Watkins as a teenager in her school picture. Her birth date is erroneously noted as November 17, 1934. (Courtesy of Colegio Anglo-Americano, Rio de Janeiro)
Wolf White Watkins, Lily’s father, from his Brazilian identification papers, 1946. (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)
Annita Watkins, Lily’s mother, from her Brazilian identification papers, 1942. (National Archives, Rio de Janeiro)
Birthday party of Alfredo Grunberg (Monteverde) in Romania, circa 1930. Alfredo is the child sitting in the front. (Courtesy Monteverde family archives)
Alfredo Monteverde at his summer home in Aguas Lindas, Brazil, undated. (Courtesy Monteverde family archives)
Alfredo, Regina, and Rosy in Rio de Janeiro, mid-1940s. (Courtesy Monteverde family archives)
One of Ponto Frio’s stores in Rio de Janeiro. (Courtesy Monteverde family archives)
Alfredo and Lily leaving for their beach house at Aguas Lindas, Brazil. (Courtesy Monteverde family archives)
Alfredo and companion Silvia Bastos Tigre in an undated photograph. (Monteverde family archives)
Lily and the children in a 1967 portrait. From left to right: Carlos, Adriana, Claudio, Lily, and Eduardo, Rio de Janeiro. (Courtesy Monteverde family archives)
Alfredo and Silvia Bastos Tigre (in sunglasses) lunching with friends at the Rio Yacht Club, Rio de Janeiro, where Alfredo kept his boats. (Courtesy Monteverde family archives)
The last photo of Alfredo Monteverde taken in Italy in July 1969, a month before his death. Standing in the back: Rosy, Alfredo. In the front, Giuseppe Jermi, Regina Monteverde, Lily. (Courtesy Monteverde family archives)
Police photo of the revolver used in the death of Alfredo Monteverde, showing four out of six bullets in the chamber, August 25, 1969, Rio de Janeiro. (Police Department, Tenth District Precinct, Rio de Janeiro)
Alfredo Monteverde lying dead on his bed at his home in Rio de Janeiro. (Police Department, Tenth District Precinct, Rio de Janeiro)
Lily and her eldest son, Claudio, the boy she called her “Jesus Christ, Esquire” at the Millfield School, Somerset, England, 1971. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Lily and her daughter Adriana, Somerset, England, 1971. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Samuel and Lily in France, 1971, shortly before their marriage. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Lily and Samuel shortly after their marriage at the registry office in Acapulco. Lily is wearing Samuel’s “Alain Delon hat,” January 31, 1972. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Samuel and Lily dining with friends in Acapulco shortly after their wedding, February 1972. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Samuel Bendahan and Lily Bendahan shortly after their marriage in Acapulco, February 1972. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Lily and Samuel on a yacht in Acapulco, 1972. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Acapulco marriage license of Samuel Bendahan and Lily Watkins, January 31, 1972. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Lily and business associate Felix Klein in Brazil, February 1972. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Lily and her son Eduardo in Rio de Janeiro, February 1972. (Courtesy Samuel Bendahan)
Divorce decree, Lily Bendahan and Samuel Bendahan, February 6, 1973. (Second Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada, County of Washoe)
Evelyne Bloch Sigelmann and Claudio Cohen at their wedding in Rio de Janeiro in May 1983. Edmond Safra is pictured on the left. (Agencia O Globo)
Lily and Edmond Safra at wedding of Lily’s eldest son, Claudio Cohen, in Rio de Janeiro, May 1983. (Agencia O Globo)
From left to right: Adolfo Bloch, Inês Bloch (mother of Evelyne Bloch Sigelmann), Mario Cohen (Lily’s first husband and Claudio’s father, standing behind Inês, to the right), and Oscar Bloch (Evelyne’s father) at the wedding of Claudio and Evelyne, May 1983 in Rio de Janeiro. (Agencia O Globo)
Vicky Safra and her husband, Joseph Safra, at the wedding of Claudio and Evelyne, May 1983, Rio de Janeiro. (Agencia O Globo)
Lily and Edmond Safra leave a luncheon at the Metropolitan Club in New York, September 1990. (Photograph by Marina Garnier)
Lily and Edmond Safra at an awards dinner at the Pierre Hotel in New York, honoring the king of Spain, hosted by the Elie Wiesel Foundation, October 1991. (Photograph by Marina Garnier)
Later, it was Claudio who supported Carlos without reservation when he decided to marry a French Muslim woman named Isis. Like his father before him, Alfredo’s adopted son would marry his wife not once but three times—twice in Las Vegas and once in Israel, after Isis spent time learning the principles of Judaism on a kibbutz.
Still, despite Isis’s best efforts to please Carlos’s family after they met in Paris in 1987, relations between Carlos, Lily, and Edmond became somewhat strained. Edmond, whom Carlos would describe as a “second father,” had taken Carlos under his wing when the boy was thirteen. Edmond became his religious mentor and oversaw the study for his bar mitzvah. When he married Isis after a whirlwind romance, Carlos feared Edmond’s disapproval so much that he preferred to sever family ties rather than risk raising his ire. Relations between the Monteverde newlyweds and the Safra couple remained diplomatic but somewhat frosty. But Claudio embraced Isis with such ease that after his death, the Monteverdes named one of their girls Claudia in his memory.
Of course, it was Lily who took Claudio’s death the hardest. She was so distraught that she all but disappeared from high society. “Lily is made of steel,” said an aging Copacabana socialite who knew Lily well in Rio. “But she was passionate about her son and grandson. I know that it really hurt her to lose Claudio and Raphael.”
BOTH EDMOND AND Lily were in deep mourning for Claudio and their grandson. They returned to New York and disappeared from the social scene. It wasn’t until a year later that their social life began to get back to normal. When they returned to La Leopolda, they hosted an intimate dinner for their friend former first lady Nancy Reagan and the designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Edmond spent much of the year after the tragic events in Rio fighting his clandestine battle with American Express. The efforts paid off, as Edmond handily won his legal battles against the company in the summer of 1989. The coup de grâce came when Edmond’s lead attorney and investigator, Stanley Arkin, a streetwise legal scrapper, used his column in the New York Law Journal to question what kind of criminal fraud charges could befall a hypothetical company that did not cooperate in the investigations into a smear campaign that involved them. Of course, the hypothetical company was American Express. Shortly after the column appeared, the company agreed to settle with Edmond. As part of the settlement, Edmond agreed not to use any of the information that he had uncovered about American Express before any government investigating agencies. The company, which had conducted a campaign of disinformation that led to defamatory articles about Edmond in the press, also paid Edmond $8 million, which went to several charities, including the United Way of America, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Hospital Cantonal de Geneve, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
At first, in a pathetic attempt to save face, American Express admitted on July 28, 1989, to the campaign and said that it had paid Edmond $4 million. Three days later, the news emerged that American Express was actually paying $8 million. Company officials hastily explained that the first $4 million was meant as an apology and that the second $4 million was a gesture of good will.
This time, nobody bought the clunky PR move. “More and more it seems that American Express came kicking and screaming to its embarrassing settlement with Edmond Safra, the rival banker who used private detectives to discover that his former employer had mounted a smear campaign against him,” noted the New York Post. “Amex is determined not to seem any sorrier than it must, insiders say, since its first mea culpa offer was way below $4 million while Safra originally demanded a penance far above $8 million.”
On August 4, 1989, Harry L. Freeman, an executive vice president of American Express known for his close ties to Jim Robinson III, resigned from the company after accepting “executive responsibility” for an investigation that led to the smear campaign against Edmond. Although officials at American Express told the New York Times that Freeman did not have personal knowledge of the campaign to discredit Edmond, he had ordered an investigation into his background.
“A well-intentioned effort for which I had executive responsibility went awry,” said Freeman in his letter of resignation to Robinson. “Mistakes were made on my watch, and accordingly, I believe my decision to retire, while painful, is appropriate.”
It’s unclear who at American Express knew about the smear campaign, stated the article in the New York Times, which questioned whether company employees were in fact “misrepresenting the situation to each other.”
But it no longer mattered to Edmond Safra. The worst, he believed, was behind him, and he vowed that the next time he parted with any of his children, it would be over his dead body. A decade later, that was exactly what happened.