Gilded Lily: Lily Safra: The Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows - Isabel Vincent (2010)
Chapter 5. “Two Weddings”
LILY WATKINS MONTEVERDE, as she now called herself, couldn’t have picked a more unromantic spot for the beginning of a torrid affair, but unlike almost everything in her life since Alfredo’s death, some things eluded even her control.
On September 28, 1971, more than two years after arriving in London, Lily sat slightly slumped in a dentist’s chair at a private clinic in Devonshire Place waiting for her dentist, Brian Kanarek, to examine her days before he was scheduled to extract her impacted wisdom teeth. Lily sat gossiping with Dora Cohen, a former sister-in-law who was married to her first husband’s brother, and who had accompanied her to the dental clinic. Although Lily had long since divorced Mario Cohen, she still maintained a relationship with the family. Friends say that Lily and Mario did not get along, but were forced to speak frequently to arrange the children’s visits between two continents.
Deep in conversation with Dora, she barely noticed when Kanarek finally arrived, striding into the clinic with the handsome stranger who would shortly change her life.
Or rather, she would change his.
The year had not been a particularly good one for Lily Watkins Monteverde. The lawsuit brought by her former in-laws, who were alleging that she was hiding Alfredo’s fortune, continued with no end in sight; her son Eduardo had left yet another school; and Adriana, now a teenager, was challenging her mother’s authority and getting into frequent arguments with Lily. Claudio remained her “perfect son” and was a big help to Carlos, who was lonely and full of self-doubt after the death of his father. Then, on July 25, her mother, Annita Watkins, a diabetic, died quite suddenly of a heart attack at seventy-one in Rio de Janeiro. On top of everything, Edmond was still insisting that they hide their relationship, at least until the end of the court cases in Brazil and England. But she knew he wasn’t serious about marriage, and that his conservative family in Brazil would never accept her.
So perhaps on the day she went to see her dentist in London, she wasn’t thinking very clearly. Perhaps she needed a diversion—something to dull the pain of her mother’s sudden passing and Edmond’s tacit rejection.
She instinctively sat up when the diversion walked through the door. At the time, Samuel Bendahan was Kanarek’s best friend, and a patient. To Lily, he seemed perfect—one of the sexiest men she had ever seen. And after two years of widowhood and a frustrating affair with Safra that seemed to be leading nowhere, she was eager for a new conquest. She raised a hand to her hair to make sure it was perfectly coiffed. She would no doubt have loved to freshen her lipstick and touch up her makeup, but she couldn’t very well dig into her purse and reach for her compact, not after the handsome stranger walked into the room.
“I caught a very quick glimpse of her looking bored but the instant that she saw me, she was sitting up and her hand went up to check her hair,” recalled Bendahan, years after that first meeting with Lily at the clinic. “This became a shorthand piece of intimacy between us. If subsequently I put my hand up to my hair and went through exaggerated motions of checking my coiffure, you could be sure that this would elicit a broad grin from her. She would do the same to me if, for example, we were in company and she wanted to convey to me that she was impatient for us to be ‘alone’ (and all that implies!).”
At thirty-five, Bendahan was tall, dark, and exotic, with black hair and brooding brown eyes. Born in Marrakech, educated in England, he seemed the perfect combination of cosmopolitan businessman, charming gentleman, and witty intellectual.
The way Bendahan tells the story, it was clearly love, or rather lust, at first sight, at least on Lily’s part. But while he may have instantly seen through her intentions, nothing prepared Bendahan for the dizzying whirlwind of the next few months.
If he could have fast-forwarded his life at that moment—standing in an antiseptic London clinic, politely shaking this woman’s hand, making small talk—he never could have imagined the bizarre and dangerous twist his life would take.
AT THAT FIRST meeting, Lily didn’t waste any time. Less than twenty minutes after being introduced to him, she asked him on a date. Bendahan claims that he demurred, slightly put off by her aggressive behavior. Had Kanarek purposely set up the meeting between his handsome single friend and the wealthy widow?
But whether it was accidental or by design, that first meeting between Lily and Bendahan must have surprised them both. For in the course of their first conversation, they discovered that they had much in common. Not only did they share the same dental surgeon, but they frequented the same high-powered supper clubs in London, and they both banked at the same Swiss bank—the extremely understated Trade Development Bank in Geneva. As luck would have it, they would both be in Geneva on business the following week. Lily would be passing through with Dora Cohen. Later, the two friends planned to travel to Paris and Tel Aviv.
Perhaps they could all meet for a drink, say, at the Hotel President Wilson, suggested Lily.
Bendahan agreed to stay in touch with Lily, but he didn’t commit to anything, still wary of the pushy blonde with the continental accent. Where was she from? He couldn’t tell, nor did he care, at least at that moment. He was preoccupied with his own import-export business, with redecorating his new flat. There were also repairs on his father’s flat to organize before embarking on a business trip to Switzerland and Belgium.
The following week, in Geneva, Bendahan went about his affairs and didn’t think much about the encounter in Kanarek’s clinic. Then, on October 5, as he packed his suitcase and prepared to leave for more business meetings in Brussels, the phone rang in his room at the Hotel du Rhône, an art-deco hotel favored by European businessmen on the right bank of the Rhône River.
“Much to my surprise Mrs. Monteverde telephoned me to inform me that they were already in Geneva and that she very much hoped that I would delay my departure to Brussels until the following day,” Bendahan recalled. As his presence in Brussels was in no way urgently required and “as frankly her insistence to meet me again touched me,” he agreed to her request.
The two met hours later at the bar of the Hotel President Wilson with its fabled view of Mont Blanc. Lily arrived without her traveling companion, telling Bendahan that “Mrs. Cohen had preferred to let us be alone for the evening,” recalled Bendahan later. “This from a total stranger!”
After dinner and a few drinks at a nearby club, Bendahan found himself drawn to the cultivated Brazilian widow. He even confided in her a secret ambition: He was ready to give up his business and pursue his dream of enrolling in law school. Lily “seemed impressed with this” and after dinner she invited him up to her suite for another drink. Bendahan politely declined and bid her good night.
Lily was clearly infatuated with Bendahan, who continued to keep his distance. Perhaps he wanted to see how far it would go. In any case, he was enjoying the game. As Bendahan recalled years later, the widow was persistent. She showed up at the Geneva airport the next morning as Bendahan prepared to board his flight to Brussels. “Much to my stupefaction, Mrs. Monteverde asked me to cancel my trip to Brussels,” he said. “I naturally refused to do this as elegantly as I could.”
Undeterred, she telephoned hotels in Brussels in an effort to find Bendahan after she arrived in Paris. Lily was unsuccessful but she was used to getting her way and refused to give up. She wrote him a letter from the plane en route to Tel Aviv and several postcards—one for every day of her stay in Israel. Bendahan found the notes at his flat when he returned to London on October 20. In fact, barely twenty minutes after he entered his apartment, the telephone rang. It was Lily inviting him for dinner at her home that evening. It was to be a small gathering of friends, she said. Bendahan initially declined, but after some prodding, agreed to join her and her guests for coffee after dinner at her flat at 6 Hyde Park Gardens.
Bendahan remembers few details of that evening with Lily and her chattering guests, all of them well-heeled European and South American couples. Marcelo Steinfeld, who had traveled to London from Rio de Janeiro on business and to deliver the remainder of Lily’s shares in Alfredo’s company, attended the dinner that night, and recalled meeting Lily’s latest conquest. Later, he shared a good laugh with his wife, dismissing Bendahan out of hand as “Lily’s latest gigolo”—a description that would haunt Bendahan for the rest of his life. Steinfeld was so unimpressed with Bendahan that he could not even recall his name.
“She was only using the guy to make Edmond jealous,” said Steinfeld in his home in Rio de Janeiro years later. “Everyone could see that.”
It was a view that was repeated by a number of Lily’s friends, and surely there must have been some desire on Lily’s part to teach Edmond a lesson after he had refused to marry her. But it’s not entirely true. As her intimate letters to Bendahan and his own recollection of their courtship and marriage suggest, the thirty-seven-year-old Brazilian widow fell hard for Bendahan, calling him five or six times a day and writing him anguished, heartfelt letters when he was away from her.
On that mild October night in London, as she saw the last guest to the door, Lily playfully grabbed Bendahan’s arm and begged him to stay on for more coffee and brandy. Bendahan effectively moved in some weeks later.
It’s not clear when Bendahan became fully aware of Lily’s extraordinary wealth. There were hints early in their courtship, of course—the Mercedes convertible she stowed in a nearby garage, the exquisite clothes, the obsequious servants, the chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. Although he was a successful businessman who ran his own small company, Bendahan’s income fell far short of his new lover’s staggering net worth.
Bendahan, who had never had servants of his own, loved spending time at Lily’s Hyde Park Gardens flat. “The real comfort came from the (mostly) excellent staff that she employed.” Lily had brought Djanira, her maid from Brazil, and along with the chauffeur, she employed a butler, cook, laundress, and housekeeper. Bendahan also loved “the delightful view onto the private gardens and the terrace overlooking these.”
It’s a testament to how enamored Lily was of Bendahan that she found herself confiding in him some of the most intimate details of her life in Brazil. She told him that she had inherited her wealth from her second husband, an appliance store magnate whose real wealth—the “black money,” as she called it—had come from smuggling gold in and out of Brazil.
Bendahan, who considered it in bad taste to ask too many probing questions, didn’t pursue the topic. It made him extremely uncomfortable, as did the rather “dour and funereal” photos of “poor darling Freddy” scattered throughout Lily’s flat. “As all this was beyond my life’s experience, I treated it as though it were a scene from some B movie and gave no credence to the rumors that she had just imparted to me.”
There were many things that Bendahan would simply choose to ignore. He didn’t probe too deeply when Lily received the calls—sometimes several times a day—from Geneva that sometimes left her shaking and in tears. And he looked the other way when he saw Lily accepting the thick packages of pound notes that arrived every week by personal courier from the Trade Development Bank.
In the end, it was Bendahan’s naivete, his reluctance to dig deeply into Lily’s past, that would end up ruining his own life. Why didn’t he ask about her life in Brazil, her fortune, the strange ironclad hold that Safra had on her financial affairs? To this day, he confessed that there is so little about her past that he knew. Was she really born Jewish, or did she convert to marry her first husband? Why was her maiden name-Watkins—Welsh? Where was her mother born? What had really taken place in Brazil?
But it never occurred to him to ask such questions when he was with her. Bendahan says he was being a gentleman, and gentlemen simply don’t ask embarrassing questions. From a young age, he says, his father explained to him “that it was rude to ask personal questions for fear that these might sadden the person questioned. This, coupled with a distinct lack of ‘nosiness’ on my part, resulted in my asking very, very few direct questions at any period in my life.”
But could there have been other reasons for his willful blindness? As he tells it, he was in love for the first time in his life. But perhaps he was also in love with the comforts of this new fairy-tale existence—the servants, the Rolls-Royce, the exquisite caviar at Annabel’s several times a week. Perhaps he didn’t ask questions because he would have too much to lose if he didn’t like the answers. Too many questions might annoy Lily, who could easily get rid of him.
The widow did indeed have a mysterious past and present, but why tempt fate now? In those early days of their romance, Bendahan simply couldn’t believe his luck.
SAMUEL HAIM BENDAHAN was born in Marrakech on April 1, 1936, in what was then the French part of Morocco. Following the sudden death of his mother less than two years after he was born, he was raised by his father, Judah Meir Bendahan, a pillar of the Jewish community. Bendahan père, who was known as Merito to observant Jews throughout the country, was a fifth-generation mohel, religious teacher, and founder of several synagogues in Marrakech and Casablanca. He prepared a generation of Jewish boys for their bar mitzvahs, led the choirs in several synagogues, and by most accounts was singularly devoted to his only son, who was later educated at Jewish boarding schools in Brighton and Oxfordshire after the Second World War. To this day, Bendahan, who is in his seventies, idealizes his father, who at a time when it was unheard of for a man to raise a child on his own did just that. Judah Bendahan never remarried.
Bendahan was equally devoted to his father until his father’s death in London in 1993. When Bendahan launched himself in business, he insisted upon supporting his father financially, renting a flat for him in London within walking distance of his own so that he could dine with him on the Jewish Sabbath. Although Bendahan is not as observant as his father was, he takes great pride in his heritage. He bought burial plots, side by side, for his father and himself on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, where Judah Bendahan is buried.
“I come from a proudly and ancient Orthodox family,” Bendahan said. “My mother, too, was a Sunday school teacher and came from an Orthodox family. I have not kept up their strict religious code but am proud of my ancestry and our religion.”
This family pride explains why he bristles whenever he sees himself depicted in the media as the gigolo third husband of Lily Safra, and why he has never consented to speak until now. In several interviews conducted over the course of a few months, Bendahan spoke of his family’s noble Jewish lineage, and was eager to relate the “truth” about his relationship with Lily, and, by extension, Edmond Safra. In addition to Bendahan’s father, there was his great-grandfather Judah Bendahan, a headmaster of the English School in the Moroccan city of Mogador. When he died in 1907, an obituary in London’s Jewish Chronicle noted his “piety, humility, simplicity of manner and gentleness of disposition.”
These were all qualities that were passed on to his grandfather and father, said Bendahan. Before his father’s death, Bendahan helped him compile a history of every circumcision that generations of their family had performed throughout Morocco and in Paris. In all, he chronicled a total of 2,257 circumcisions, spanning nearly a century, that his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had performed. The records are now part of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Society and the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation in London.
As Bendahan proudly pointed out, “our ancestors chose to be expelled from Spain rather than to submit to the demands of the Inquisition, and, to this day, on all our ketubot [Jewish marriage contracts] we are entitled to state we are ‘of the Expelled,’ a title of some significance.”
This may explain why Samuel Bendahan, a self-confessed playboy and bon vivant, did not take marriage lightly. He idealized it and fantasized about the perfect woman—“the nice Jewish girl” who would be virtuous enough to present to his dear father.
Was Lily good enough to marry Samuel Bendahan? During those early days, he wasn’t sure, which might explain why Lily never met Bendahan’s father.
Still, in London, they acted like a wealthy married couple. They dined out several nights a week at ultra-exclusive clubs such as dell’Aretusa and Les Ambassadeurs. As Bendahan recalls, Lily was elegant in Valentino black tails and a smoldering Eve cigarette in hand. He said she turned heads, resembling a rather thin and petite version of Marlene Dietrich.
In late October 1971, as Lily and Bendahan arrived for dinner at Annabel’s, they were stopped at the door by Louis, the maître d’hôtel. Lily had clearly dined there often with her former lover Safra, and as she breezed in with her latest conquest, Louis “whispered conspiratorially that we might not want to come in as ‘monsieur Safra est ici.’ I could not care less one way or another but Lily refused to be dictated by her past and asked Louis to take us to his table,” recalled Bendahan. Perhaps it was also Lily’s way of showing off her new lover to Edmond, who had bowed to his own family’s pressure in refusing to marry her.
Lily touched up her makeup before taking Bendahan’s arm and steering her trophy lover—this younger, much more attractive man—to the legendary banker’s table. Edmond, who was dining with a group of dark-suited business associates, glanced up at his former lover in some surprise. It was a momentary look of disgust, recalled Bendahan. But in the end Edmond’s Old World breeding won the day, and he extended his hand to Lily’s new lover. Still, “his smile was somewhat frozen.” For the rest of the evening, the happy couple ignored the Lebanese banker and continued their intimate dinner “as if nothing had happened.”
Life with Lily seemed blissful in those early days. They lingered over coffee and newspapers in the mornings. In her love letters to Bendahan at the time, Lily writes about her delight at the routine that quickly became their morning ritual. She would wash his hair in the bathtub. At breakfast, she poured his coffee and buttered his croissants. There are also the racier notes in which she refers to herself as Madame Claude, the infamous Parisian brothelkeeper who provided women for France’s power elite in the 1960s and 1970s. She also compared herself to Elizabeth Taylor and pretended Bendahan was Richard Burton, sometimes addressing the little love notes, inscribed in English on elegant little cream cards with the initials LWM, to “Richard.”
In those early letters, many of them written when Bendahan was on a series of business trips abroad, she refers to herself as his wife. In one letter, she calls him “My adorable husband (oh! How nice).” In other notes, she begs him not to drink too much alcohol because he needs to be in good health in order to have children with her (“lots of them!”).
Lily seemed so comfortable with her new lover that she felt it perfectly respectable to take him to visit Carlos and Claudio at the Millfield School in Somerset. In the photographs Bendahan took of that visit in November 1971, there is one of Lily gazing lovingly at Bendahan, fixing her coiffure (“with all that implies!”) and vamping for the camera beside Adriana.
There are also similar photographs of the happy couple taken on a trip to Villars, in the Swiss Alps, to visit Carlos, who had fractured his leg while skiing with his classmates.
In those early weeks, Bendahan recalled that the two never argued and their sex life was “excellent.” Lily had “introduced me to One Hundred Years of Solitude, she had introduced me to the Lanvin mode of dressing, [and] she had a superb sense of humor.”
In letter after letter, Lily expressed her intense longing for him. Writing “from our home” in London, Lily writes of her happiness at having found true love. In another letter, the second written on the same day, Lily refers to Bendahan as “my love, my darling, my beloved, my husband, my man, my everything.”
Still, there were strains, especially as Bendahan prepared to embark on an annual month-long business trip that would take him from Bangkok to Mexico, with several stops in between. Bendahan would be accompanied by Kanarek on a trip that he admitted was “partly for business, and mostly to clear my mind in regard to, what to her and to me, seemed to have become a serious relationship.” Kanarek, at the time, was also “suffering from nervous exhaustion” and needed to get away from London.
The truth is that Bendahan was looking forward to being away from this all-consuming relationship with Lily. In mid-December, approximately two months after moving in with Lily, Bendahan announced that he would leave for Bangkok in a few weeks’ time. The news did not go over well with a woman who had grown accustomed to wielding absolute control over the people around her.
“Mrs. Monteverde was of course incensed that I should appear to be giving someone else priority over her, however much I explained how loyal and affectionate Mr. and Mrs. Kanarek had been to me over the years,” he later told his lawyer. Nevertheless, on January 2, 1972, Bendahan and Kanarek left for Paris in order to catch an early flight the next morning for Bangkok.
Perhaps Lily’s protestations of love were a little too stifling to a bachelor used to his freedom. Despite the geographic distance between them as he traveled to Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Tahiti, Bendahan simply couldn’t get rid of her. Lily pursued him. She wrote to him every day about how she suffered in his absence, how intensely she missed him, how she dreamed of making love with him. Her first letter, written several days before his departure, was already waiting for him in Bangkok when he arrived. And she called incessantly—this in the days when making overseas calls was truly a chore, requiring her to stay glued to the telephone for up to five hours, “to which inconvenience must be added the time differential between London and those places,” said Bendahan.
In the course of some of those long-distance conversations, Lily suggested that she fly to meet him. But her life was so filled with luncheons, shopping, and meetings with interior designers—she had undertaken to supervise the work on Bendahan’s new flat and his father’s flat—that he didn’t take her very seriously. Then at the end of his trip, as he was waiting for his luggage at the Acapulco airport, “I suddenly caught sight of Lily bouncing up and down like a four-year-old.” Without any warning, Lily had jumped on a plane to surprise him.
The reunion was passionate, and during the first few days they spent most of their time in their suite at the luxurious Regency Hyatt hotel. Judging from the notes that she wrote on hotel stationery and left for Bendahan, Lily was ecstatic with the man she called her “Red Indian” lover. In one note, she tells Bendahan to put on his “beautiful Alain Delon’s [sic] hat and come down and kill all the women!”
It was the same straw hat that Lily would borrow to wear on their wedding day at the local registry office in Acapulco. While their marriage may have had the air of spontaneity to an outside observer, there was nothing extemporaneous about it. Lily had planned everything. When Bendahan and Lily went to visit the British consul in Acapulco to discuss the documentation they needed to marry in Mexico, he told them that as it appeared the wedding had not been pre-planned, it would be impossible to marry without Lily producing proof of her divorce from her first husband and the death certificate of her second husband. Of course, Lily was prepared. “She had traveled with these!” recalled Bendahan years later.
Although everything seemed to be in place, Bendahan still urged caution. He was still unsure about Lily. “As a very last precaution I did insist that we wait just one more week so as to be sure yet again that our enthusiasm to marry was not merely a result of the euphoria that we felt at being reunited,” he said.
In the days before their wedding, Bendahan was nervous. What did he really know about this woman he had met at a dental clinic? He was also a little embarrassed. “I would be number three in an age when even having a number two was frowned upon.” He also said that he was “very concerned about the disparity in our bank accounts. After much insistence on my part, she finally agreed that I would pay for the staff at her London residence”—a large amount for Bendahan, who was also paying his and his father’s expenses in London. In order to prove to both himself and the world that he was not marrying Lily for her money, he insisted that they marry under “separation of assets”—a fact that is clearly reflected on their marriage license.
As Bendahan later pointed out, this is not the course that a “dedicated fortune hunter” would have chosen. “Please remember that she had just flown halfway across the world to be with me and for the first time in a long time, she felt truly happy,” he said. “Thus, modesty aside, she could have been putty in my hands. If I had had an ounce of the Rubirosa in me, she would have agreed to any demand that I made at that time. But the fruit never falls far from the tree and such a thought never entered my mind.”
But there was another issue: How would Lily pass muster with his father? Was she really the woman for him—was this to be his wife? “She [Lily] was well aware of the fact that my mother had died when I was one year old and that my father had never remarried,” he said. “I therefore, perhaps wrongly, held an idealistic view of marriage and would enter into such a union only upon being certain that it would be a permanent union of love, of affection, of tenderness and of loyalty, and most important that it should at all times be based on Truth. All these things she professed to admire and to agree to.”
In hindsight, of course, there was little of the Truth that Bendahan so craved in what was about to become the most important relationship of his life.
Despite the bachelor’s nagging doubts, Samuel Haim Bendahan entered the municipal registry office with its white-washed stucco walls and dusty wooden floors. Sweating from the heat, he handed over the three-peso fee to the clerk, who duly typed up the marriage license on a manual typewriter. With no fanfare, the presiding judge, Israel Hernandez, married Samuel Bendahan and Lily Watkins (there is no Monteverde on the marriage license) at 11:15 a.m. on January 31, 1972. Their witnesses were Brian Kanarek, the dentist; Humberto Morales, the taxi driver who drove them to the registry office; Graciela Roman, a clerk from the registry office; and Margarita Ramos, an eighteen-year-old maid. They would have a religious ceremony when they were back in London, Bendahan said.
Strangely, only Bendahan thought to wear white for his wedding. In a photograph snapped by Kanarek after the ceremony, Bendahan is smiling, resplendent in white trousers and a long-sleeved white shirt, the first few buttons casually undone. Lily wears a patterned skirt and dark silk blouse, her expression hidden behind her large sunglasses and the Alain Delon straw hat.
AFTER THE LOW-KEY ceremony, they returned to the hotel and called their friends and family. Bendahan wrote a long letter to his father introducing Lily, whom he described as “blonde, blue-eyed and Jewish.” Although he didn’t mention the civil ceremony, he promised that they would have a traditional Jewish wedding at the Lauderdale Road Synagogue in London upon their return. “Knowing my dad, the two words synagogue and Jewish would be sufficient to make him deliriously happy, although he had never met her.”
Bendahan remembers the days immediately following the wedding ceremony as the happiest of his life. “When I woke up after my first night as a married man, I felt totally cleansed and the fear of not having access to my regular harem came, surprisingly to me, as a huge relief. It was practically a spiritual experience and my cup was overflowing.”
Lily broke the news to her children. Adriana, who was then fifteen, promptly hung up on her mother, although she later called her back to congratulate the happy couple. Eduardo was still in South America living with his father, and Lily would speak to him “after a year of total breakdown” when she and Bendahan arrived in Rio de Janeiro on an extended honeymoon.
Carlos, Alfredo’s adopted son, who would have been the most vulnerable because he had lost his father two years before, seemed thrilled to have a new father. He even addressed two letters from boarding school to Mr. and Mrs. Bendahan, starting them “Dear mum and dad.” The gesture brought tears to Bendahan’s eyes. “Perhaps it was his total and innocent trust in the stranger—But now I was determined to be a real father to him.” Later, Lily would tease him relentlessly about the letters. “What do mummy and daddy want to do this evening?” she would say when the two found themselves alone.
It was eighteen-year-old Claudio, Lily’s eldest son, who would put it best: “Welcome home,” he told Bendahan, offering his hearty congratulations when he spoke to them on the phone from Somerset. “How does it feel to be part of a mad family?”
How indeed? But if the comment gave him even the slightest pause, Bendahan shrugged off any doubt. He embarked on his honeymoon a very happy man, convinced that he had been accepted with open arms into a wonderful new family.
To add to his joy, Lily, who was then thirty-seven, announced that she had stopped using birth control while they were in Mexico and desperately wanted to have his children. As they left on the grand tour that would take them to New York, Rio de Janeiro, and the French Riviera, Bendahan saw his life in a new light—the doting husband and father, leading the Passover seder, taking the children for their Hebrew lessons with their grandfather. Life would be glorious! he thought as the couple sailed to South America.
“We arrived in Rio where again all her friends and all her family without exception expressed unqualified joy and commented how well Lily looked after several years of looking drawn.” Indeed, the photographs seem to say it all: A bikini-clad Lily running after a soccer ball on the lawn of her brother Daniel’s home in Petropolis, in the mountains outside Rio; Lily sitting on the floor of a friend’s living room, smiling and eating lunch with a group of her old friends in the elegant beachfront neighborhood of Leblon.
“She was so happy on that trip that while we were having lunch, she saw a Carnaval band passing on the street, and ran out to dance with them,” recalled her friend Elza Gruenbaum years after Lily’s honeymoon in Rio. “Can you imagine! We all had such a great time with her.”
After nine days in Rio, the happy couple left by ship en route to Cannes. It was while they were nearing the port of Lisbon that Lily told Bendahan that she was now convinced that she was pregnant. “Back in London we even discussed the best place for us to be for the birth of our child and I think that we agreed that it might be best for him or her to have dual nationality and that the U.S. might be best…the Cold War still being very much daily fare.”
Like Bendahan, Lily may have also convinced herself that she had embarked on a new life, and when they arrived in Cannes, they checked in to the luxe Carlton hotel, where Lily made arrangements for Adriana and Eduardo to join them. Almost immediately after arriving in France, they went in search of the perfect home. The previous summer Lily had rented a house in nearby Vallauris, a picturesque suburb of Antibes in the Alpes Maritimes that was home to Picasso for a decade after the Second World War. She knew the house was for sale and she was determined that it would be in Vallauris, with its breathtaking views of the Bay of Cannes, that “we could make our home and have our first child,” she told Bendahan. Although the house was no longer available, Lily found an even grander stone villa, known as Mas Notre Dame, near Golfe Juan. The imposing structure boasted four principal bedrooms and four bathrooms, three staff bedrooms with two bathrooms, a kitchen, and laundry area. There was also a two-bedroom beach house, a sizable garage, and a swimming pool and outdoor bar on the property. Lily agreed on the spot to purchase the villa, and the couple returned to the Carlton hotel to draw up their plans for renovating the property on hotel stationery. She sent orders to her bank in Geneva to wire her 3.5 million francs for the purchase. She also demanded that a Geneva-based attorney, a man known to Bendahan only as Zucker, should draw up the paperwork immediately.
Willard Zucker, an American banker who lived in Switzerland and would make international headlines for setting up the complex web of shell companies used to move funds in the Iran-Contra scandal more than a decade later, set out the terms of purchase in a letter to the owner of the house on March 6, 1972. “It is the desire of our client to conclude the transaction at the earliest possible date,” he wrote.
Lily was clearly in a hurry. But the haste was not so much to begin her new life in France. It became clear to Bendahan that she was in a hurry to get her hands on the money for the purchase before Edmond found out what she had done.
“Edmond will kill me when he finds out,” she told Bendahan, in a moment of utter fear and paranoia that should have given Bendahan some pause. “He’ll never let me transfer the money to buy us a house!” Lily had constantly complained to Bendahan that Edmond kept her on an extremely tight financial leash. The only time that she had disobeyed Safra was when she insisted on leasing the Rolls-Royce, which she did shortly after moving to London in 1969. He was furious at her extravagance. So this was simply her banker being cheap, thought Bendahan. Foolishly, he did not read anything ominous into Edmond’s potential disapproval.
The newlyweds blithely continued with plans to purchase the French property, with Bendahan insisting upon paying half the purchase price (he would take out a loan from Lily), and Lily instructing Zucker to draw up a contract. She also told Zucker to set up a Panamanian company to purchase the property, with the shares being held in equal parts by herself and Bendahan. Zucker suggested a Swiss company instead, and busied himself with the paperwork.
But Bendahan should have been extremely disturbed by the course of events in France. He was well aware that Safra controlled Lily’s assets through his bank in Switzerland. “It would seem that Safra had an unassailable grip on the Freddy fortune,” he said. “And this continued well into my day, with Lily expressing great nervousness about what Safra would do to her money when he learned of our marriage.” Knowing this, how could Bendahan ever have imagined that he and Lily would be allowed to live happily ever after?
Of course, where Edmond was involved, Bendahan was destined to learn his lesson the hard way. For Edmond controlled more than Bendahan could have imagined. In addition to dispatching, via personal courier, several thousand in cash every week for Lily’s expenses in London, he also took care of the leases on her flat, the Rolls-Royce, and the Mercedes convertible. For tax and legal reasons, she still had no assets in her name in London, and no credit card. Both Lily and the Trade Development Bank were still in the thick of Rosy and Regina’s lawsuit against them, both in London and in Rio de Janeiro. Furthermore, Lily had not yet obtained probate on Carlos’s English assets. Edmond’s control was so complete that Lily still routinely used his Geneva address, 56 Moillebeau, on her hotel bills.
Despite Lily’s worries about Edmond, Bendahan seems to have deluded himself into thinking that everything was going smoothly. In fact, he was so sure that he would soon be the co-owner of the stone villa that he left $500 with the gardener, telling him to buy new plants and clean the pool. Lily also suggested that they unpack their summer clothes and leave them at the house, since they wouldn’t need the clothes upon their return to London. In the evenings, they continued to dine out with Lily’s friends on the Riviera (the Abitbols were in town from Rio de Janeiro) and draw up their renovation plans for the property on hotel stationery. “We were excited to be together but, also, totally at peace with each other,” recalled Bendahan.
But after Adriana and Eduardo arrived in Cannes, Bendahan couldn’t help but notice “a dramatic decline” in his new wife. Days later, Lily informed him that Werner, her London chauffeur, was also flying down to Cannes to meet her.
Why was Werner flying down?
“Oh, he is bringing down a pair of shoes that I particularly like for walking,” she told Bendahan, who immediately became suspicious. Since they had been together, Lily had never gone out walking. And while they were staying in Cannes, she never put on those shoes. “I can only assume that Werner was carrying a letter from Safra, either containing threats and/or promises. Probably both.”
Bendahan began to press Lily for details of her financial arrangements with Edmond, and the reasons for her sudden anxiety. After Werner’s visit, “the pressure became intense,” recalled Bendahan. Lily began receiving “endless telephone calls during which I chose not to be present.” The calls were clearly from Safra. But again, this was nothing new. Since Lily had begun dating Bendahan, “there was pressure from the day that Safra found out that she was no longer spending her evenings at home in the event that he might phone or visit.”
Safra seems to have found out about the marriage during the negotiations to purchase the house at Golfe Juan. Did Zucker inform him? Or perhaps Lily broke the news to him herself. Perhaps this was her little bit of revenge on the Lebanese banker who had refused to make her his wife.
Regardless of how he found out, Lily began to receive a “fusillade” of calls from Edmond. Those calls clearly unnerved her, although it was unclear to Bendahan what they were discussing. Yet during one of those calls from Geneva, Lily passed the receiver to Bendahan. It was Edmond, straining to sound cheery. “He offered me his warmest congratulations on getting married to Lily.”
Still, Lily was clearly dreading her imminent return to London. In Cannes, “she was subjected to a barrage of telephone calls which had a discernible effect on her. I was concerned about this and she told me that she was under very great pressure as ‘he never thought I would marry you.’”
Despite the tension, Bendahan was still hopeful about their relationship. “On the airplane to London I asked Lily if she wanted to sit next to her [daughter] as they [Lily and Adriana] had after all been separated for over a month,” he said. “Lily thought it a ridiculous suggestion and we held hands for the whole of the flight from Nice to London.”
However, things deteriorated almost as soon as they arrived in London. Within minutes of entering the Hyde Park Gardens flat, Lily showed signs of tension again, and went around inspecting every lampshade “as she claimed that burnt-out bulbs were never changed in her absence.” Suddenly, she had trouble sleeping.
“I now no longer had to press her to speak for she quite calmly told me that she was wondering if we had not made a mistake in marrying so hastily and that she was no longer even sure whether she loved me.” Lily told her new husband that she wanted to be alone for a few days, and even helped a dazed Bendahan pack a suitcase.
Bendahan was devastated, but agreed to give his new wife her own space. Surely Safra was putting pressure on her, but what else was driving this bizarre behavior? Perhaps it was the lawsuit that was scheduled to go to trial shortly in London. For weeks, Lily had repeatedly spoken about how much she hated her former sister-in-law Rosy and how Rosy was making her life miserable. On one occasion, she became so distraught about the upcoming trial that she begged Bendahan to hide a painting that she claimed was a Van Gogh that Rosy was alleging belonged to her family. Bendahan readily obliged and hid the painting, which was “dark and ugly” and belonged to the period before the artist discovered the French countryside. In more innocent days, it was the same painting that Alfredo had convinced his friend to cart from the Rio airport in a Volkswagen van years before. Lily had the painting professionally crated and shipped to Bendahan’s office. That night, in a coincidence that he is hard-pressed to explain, thieves broke into his office, overturning his desk drawers, ransacking filing cabinets. They were clearly in search of valuables, but, curiously, they did not steal the Van Gogh, even though they had punched several holes in the crate. The incident left him shaken, and he immediately called Lily to have the painting removed.
“That evening, she told everybody about the event and could not stop laughing about it and teasing me,” recalled Bendahan. “I wonder what her reaction would have been had it been stolen. I do not know what happened to the painting after she had it collected.”
Perhaps now the stress of the upcoming legal battle with Rosy was simply too much for her, thought Bendahan as he returned to the cold comfort of his messy flat, which was still in the process of being redecorated by Lily’s interior designer. The old fabric had been torn off the walls, which were now bare, and the sitting room was littered with fabric swatches and paint samples. Later, he would be stuck with more than £10,000 in unpaid decorating bills.
Two days passed without word from Lily. Alone and completely bewildered, Bendahan grew frantic, dialing her number several times a day. There was no response from his wife. The servants had obviously been instructed not to forward his calls. On the one occasion when he was able to get through to her, he encountered a cold response: “When I thought that I would not be able to live through another minute I telephoned again and my wife calmly informed me that upon further consideration she had thought that it would be wiser not to call me back after all.”
When he couldn’t stand to be away from her anymore, he showed up at her flat, sick with worry and completely sleep-deprived. Lily fell into his arms, clearly relieved to see him again. In that moment, life seemed to return to some sense of normalcy. They traded heartfelt apologies and made plans to have dinner later in the evening. Lily was scheduled to meet with Felix Klein, Alfredo’s former business associate who had been so useful to her in the days after Alfredo died. Klein had been dispatched to Switzerland to remove Rosy’s power of attorney from Alfredo’s Swiss holdings at the Union Bank of Switzerland. He had also allegedly threatened Rosy when she tried to launch an investigation into Alfredo’s death. Bendahan had met Klein in Rio during their honeymoon. Klein, who now handled Lily’s business affairs in Brazil, had met with the couple in the bar of the beachfront Leme Palace hotel in Rio where they had discussed Lily’s finances. It was the only time he had seen Lily in a vicious mood. Where was the $15 million that was supposed to have been transferred to her in Europe? she had demanded of Klein. What had her “thief-director” done with her money? she demanded. Unbeknownst to Bendahan, Lily was speaking about Geraldo Mattos, Ponto Frio’s chief director, who had been so indispensable to her when she was dealing with the arrangements for Alfredo’s funeral and the annoying police investigation in Rio.
Still, days after the heated exchange, all seemed to be well again. Klein showed up for the good-bye party aboard their ship before it sailed to Europe. Lily sat chatting and chain-smoking Eve cigarettes as Klein expressed his good wishes for the happy couple.
Now, during this terrible crisis in their marriage, Klein had again appeared on the scene in London. He probably had urgent news of the Brazilian business, or perhaps he was bringing Lily the cash she had demanded. At that moment, Bendahan didn’t stop to think about why Klein was in London; he simply agreed to drive her to the nearby Mayfair Hotel where Klein was staying. Lily kissed him and promised that she would return within the hour, in time for a late dinner.
But as the hours passed, Bendahan grew distraught. He called the Mayfair repeatedly and had Klein paged. For nearly four hours, there was no answer. Then Bendahan grew completely desperate and called his nemesis Edmond Safra, who he knew was in London on business and staying at the Dorchester hotel. “I felt that with the court case to be heard in London shortly that it was possible that my wife and Mr. Klein had gone to see Mr. Safra.” It was ten to midnight on March 11, 1972, when the hotel operator connected Bendahan to Edmond’s suite.
“Mr. Safra informed me that he had not seen my wife and not unnaturally seemed a little surprised that I should be unaware of her whereabouts after six weeks of marriage,” Bendahan said.
At about half past midnight, Bendahan heard a knock on the door. Finally, she had returned! But why wasn’t she using her key? Bendahan rushed to the door, ready to greet his wife, but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Klein and the man he knew only as Raymond, an executive from Edmond’s bank who was in charge of delivering Lily’s weekly packages of cash. Both had dour expressions, and immediately Bendahan knew that the nightmare of the previous week was about to begin again in terrible earnest.
In measured tones the two businessmen took turns explaining that Lily was very confused and needed a few days on her own to recover from an unspecified ailment. They explained to him that such things happened occasionally with Lily, that she was inclined to behave irrationally. But they assured him that the best chance for her recovery and their marriage would be for Bendahan to respect her wishes and leave the flat immediately.
At first, Bendahan stood his ground. But I am her husband, he argued. Lily is my wife. Klein and the other man were unmoved, and repeated that Lily wanted him out of the flat immediately. How could this be happening? How could these two strangers kick him out of the matrimonial home?
“I asked to speak to Lily but they told me that she was under great stress and that a doctor had had to be called and that she was under sedation,” recalled Bendahan years after the event that would result in the end of his marriage.
“So I left to their repeated assurances that everything would be all right the next day. By then, I clearly remember, my heart was beating so hard that I could hardly hear them and my mouth was so dry as to hardly be able to speak.”
Bendahan says he spent the next month in a cloud. For the first time in his life, he began to take sleeping pills every night in order to rest. Bewildered by the bizarre turn of events, he sought out a lawyer, writing out the whole story of his and Lily’s meeting and courtship as if to affirm to himself and the world that it really had happened, and that as recently as a few weeks before the dreadful meeting with Klein and his accomplice at the London flat, they had both been deliriously happy. He made repeated and rather pathetic efforts to contact his wife.
“I have tried to reach my wife at the Plaza Athenée in Paris, at the President Hotel in Geneva, at the Palace hotel in St. Moritz, at the Hotel du Rhône in Geneva, at the Dorchester in London,” he told his lawyer.
But there was no response. Lily seemed to have disappeared without a trace.
“This is in effect how our marriage broke up,” he later wrote. “With no more prelude than I have described.”
IN THE SPRING of 1972, Edmond Safra was a busy man. In addition to preparing his defense in the lawsuit that was threatening his beloved Trade Development Bank in London, he was in the process of acquiring another bank—the Kings Lafayette Bank in Brooklyn—and preparing to meet with U.S. regulators.
But clearly Lily’s marriage was the most pressing item on his agenda. After all, she must have represented one of the single biggest depositors at his bank. Of course, he was also desperately in love with her, and underneath his hard-nosed business exterior, he was extremely hurt by her behavior and must have been insanely jealous of Bendahan, who was younger and far more handsome than himself.
“Edmond told me that he couldn’t sleep at night thinking of Lily, that she had gotten married, that she was living with someone else,” said his friend Albert Nasser.
The escapades of the previous few months simply couldn’t be allowed to continue. He had to put an end to her marriage and regain control of Lily, even if it meant going public with their own relationship and eventually marrying her against his family’s wishes.
He summoned his various aides and top executives from around the world, beginning with Simon Alouan, the able Lebanese mathematics professor he had put in charge of Alfredo’s old company. “He called Alouan and asked him to go to London to tell Lily that if she divorces, Edmond will marry her, even against the wishes of his family,” said Nasser. But Bendahan needed to be eliminated first.
For weeks, he plotted. Paying off the man who had become Lily’s husband must have turned Edmond’s stomach.
But what to do?
First, he needed to put Lily in her place. At the Geneva headquarters of the Trade Development Bank, Edmond asked his secretary to get him on the next flight to London. He called Alouan, who hated Lily and didn’t want to travel to London, so he settled on Felix Klein, ordering him to get on the first flight from Rio de Janeiro to London.
We have an emergency.
Klein, a chain-smoking Romanian émigré who was fond of dark suits and Brylcreem, knew better than most how to deal with emergencies. He had arranged everything in Rio after his former employer Alfredo died.
Now Edmond was entrusting him with a far more sensitive mission as he realized the huge threat that Bendahan represented to his future. If he were to lose Lily, he might also eventually lose Alfredo’s fortune—a situation that could prove catastrophic for his growing banking empire.
The night that Lily left Bendahan alone at Hyde Park Gardens, Klein escorted her to Edmond’s hotel. It’s not clear what was said behind closed doors, but Edmond, who had repeatedly asked her to put an end to her foolish marriage to Bendahan, must have resolved to do it himself—by any means necessary.
“I CAN ONLY think that my wife is either very sick or very evil and with much regret I can’t but feel that the latter is true,” wrote Bendahan in a letter to his attorney eight days after Klein and his assistant ordered him to leave Lily’s flat.
But the signs had been everywhere during their relationship. And in the dark days after his ouster, as he struggled to come to grips with what had happened to his marriage, he searched through the letters and notes in an effort to understand what had just befallen him.
In a chatty letter she wrote to Bendahan during the first glorious weeks of their life together describing the progress of decorators at his new flat and professing her undying love for him, Lily also confessed to a terrible premonition. She wrote that she was very afraid for their future together. It was January 5, 1972, and she was off to Geneva and then on to St. Moritz for undisclosed business. Bendahan had just begun his round-the-world tour, and the letter must have reached him in Bangkok or Tahiti.
Bendahan dismissed the sentence, as he did all of the other troubling little insights into her character. What did he make of a subsequent letter, dated only three days later? On Saturday, January 8, 1972, Lily wrote to her beloved from the train en route to Gatwick airport to pick up her daughter Adriana. The previous evening she had heard from an ex-brother-in-law in Buenos Aires that her son Eduardo had come down with an illness and suffered hallucinations. A maid at the penthouse apartment where he was staying called his uncle, who took him to a local hospital.
Lily went on to describe how she felt about her son’s condition. She informed Bendahan that her eldest son, Claudio, whom she referred to as her “Jesus Christ, Esquire,” had offered to bring his brother to London. But if she couldn’t convince him to travel, Lily was prepared to “see to it” that Eduardo would be sedated and brought to London, accompanied by a doctor. The letter ended with Lily pleading with Bendahan to find a solution to be with her because she could no longer cope on her own. In a separate letter to Bendahan, written on the evening of the same day, Eduardo’s problems seemed entirely forgotten and she spent much of the letter writing about her feelings for Bendahan.
Was Bendahan at all perturbed by this response to Eduardo’s situation? Bendahan said he advised Lily not to bring her son to London by force. In the end, Lily seemed to forget about her son’s state of mind since she was able to hop on a plane to meet her lover in Acapulco.
Lily later met up with Eduardo in Rio de Janeiro. After a year of being apart from him, she didn’t seem very happy to see him in Rio, recalled Bendahan. “It is clear that she is uncomfortable with him and he with her,” said Bendahan, referring to a photograph he took of mother and son on their honeymoon in Rio. “To be fair to her, pretty well everybody was uncomfortable in his presence. I went out with him a few times in Cannes and although he was friendly I was always conscious of an undercurrent of some demon that he was wrestling with.” Later, there was a reconciliation of sorts, and Lily convinced Eduardo to join his brothers and sister in London, no doubt so she could keep a watchful eye on him.
But on occasion, Lily’s behavior did give Bendahan some pause. For one thing, she discarded friends with seemingly little feeling. When he asked her if she was going to keep in touch with Carmen Sirotsky, a woman she described as her “best friend” in Rio, Lily said she simply didn’t have time. She also tossed off her friendship with Jo Kanarek, the dentist’s wife, when she was no longer useful to her, Bendahan said.
But if Bendahan was concerned at her flip-flopping emotional state, it was only in hindsight. “For the first time in a letter there is an indication of her mental makeup, the significance of which unfortunately escaped me at the time,” Bendahan later confessed, referring to the letter she wrote to him on January 8, 1972, outlining Eduardo’s emotional problems. Bendahan added that her anguish and depression at being away from him was extremely short-lived.
Later, the callous treatment of the man to whom she had professed her undying love should have come as little surprise to Bendahan.
Still, for weeks after he left Lily’s Hyde Park Gardens flat, Bendahan tried to contact her. But in the end, it was Lily who contacted him through her lawyers. She was demanding a divorce, and her lawyers wanted him to sign the legal papers quickly, releasing her from any financial responsibilities. Bendahan refused. Years later, he claimed that he was not after money so much as a final meeting with Lily. He even suggested the tea room at Claridge’s Hotel in London. Or, if her advisers suspected that he might have the press or police present, he was prepared for them to pick him up and take him to a meeting place of their choosing without giving him any kind of advance knowledge of where that would be. But Lily’s lawyers “were persistent and categorical in refusing to let Lily spend a minute in my presence, even under close supervision.”
In the final negotiations leading up to the divorce Bendahan demanded payment for the decorating work Lily had commissioned on his flat—a figure roughly equivalent to $35,000, which she agreed to pay. He also demanded compensation for his suffering. The strain had left his business “in tatters” and he would need the next two years to bring it back up to speed. Lily refused to negotiate. The final indignity came when her lawyers invited him to go to New York to negotiate his divorce settlement in person. Bendahan’s father, who was only ever told a small part of the story of his son’s marriage and untimely separation, told him not to go.
“He advised me against this and recommended that I let lawyers take care of that unpleasantness,” recalled Bendahan.
Bendahan should have heeded that advice, for almost as soon as he stepped off his plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport, he was arrested by a plainclothes policeman. Bendahan spent a terrifying night at the Rikers Island jail, charged with “attempted extortion.” He was charged with trying to extort $250,000 in a final divorce settlement from Lily. One Brazilian newspaper erroneously reported that he tried to extort more than $6 million from her. Bendahan would later settle for what he claims amounted to a pittance.
According to press accounts, Bendahan had threatened to conduct an investigation into Lily’s business interests in New York and in Brazil unless the money was paid to him. Among other things, he accused her of transferring funds illegally from Brazil to Switzerland.
During his brief stay at Rikers Island, Bendahan claims that he shared a cell with a self-confessed murderer and saw a man throw himself off an upper floor. “You can well imagine the impact this had on me,” he recalled. “One minute married to the woman of my life who adored me, and the next, incarcerated with murderers, rapists, etc.”
Bendahan’s lawyers obtained his release the following day after paying $50,000 in bail, although he was forbidden to leave the country. In the weeks of arduous divorce negotiations that followed, he claims he was bullied and threatened by Lily’s lawyers, who told him that if he did not do exactly what they wanted they would arrange for him to be sent to prison for a much longer period of time in the United States.
“Imagine how popular a good-looking boy like you would be with all those violent Negro criminals,” said one of the lawyers, who worked with Edmond.
Lily’s lawyers were anxious that Bendahan sign off on any rights to Lily’s estate. The legal proceedings dragged on for the next two years, during which time Bendahan nearly declared bankruptcy.
For Lily, life went on swimmingly. Despite protracted legal proceedings against her and Edmond in London and the messy separation from Bendahan, Lily emerged triumphant. That year, she was named one of the best-dressed women in London society.
Bendahan demanded the payment of the decorating bills. But Edmond wanted revenge and insisted upon proceeding, even as his lawyers must have told him he had a weak case against Bendahan, trying to nail him for attempted extortion. When Edmond finally did lose the case, he went on to appeal. The case was eventually dismissed by a panel of five judges.
In the meantime, Lily applied for a divorce in Reno, Nevada. During the proceedings, she made a request to the presiding judge that she not be present in the courtroom with her soon-to-be ex-husband.
Lily and her third husband appeared separately, although their paths briefly crossed in the corridors of the Second Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada. Ever the gentleman, Bendahan stepped aside when he saw her approach. As she passed him, she instinctively raised her hand to her head.
And all that implies!
But this time she wasn’t checking her coiffure. The gesture was no longer meant to impress or to seduce. In his last sighting of his wife, Bendahan was certain that she was raising her hand to cover her face in shame.
LILY AND EDMOND didn’t formally extricate themselves from l’affaire Bendahan until three years after Lily’s divorce, when the appeal in New York State Supreme Court was thrown out in July 1976 because it was wasting valuable court time.
“There is no reason for the State of New York to be concerned with protecting the property interests that were threatened,” noted Justice James J. Leff, the appeals judge. “Those interests are in Brazil and Britain. If carried to a conclusion this case will continue to preempt valuable court time, utilize the limited staff of the prosecutor’s office and impose a burden on criminal justice facilities.”
Although Edmond would have loved to have put Bendahan in his place, the matter was now clearly out of his hands. Edmond and Lily traveled back and forth between New York and London, where Lily finally established her residency, and vacationed on Edmond’s yacht in the Riviera. Edmond took Lily’s children under his wing, helping Carlos to study for his bar mitzvah when he turned thirteen in 1972. Later, he would put him to work at his banks. Eventually, Edmond also gave Claudio a plum position at Ponto Frio in Rio de Janeiro. Eduardo was pretty much left to his father’s care in Argentina. Like her mother, Adriana was being prepared for marriage when she reached her late teens. Edmond would help find her a suitable mate in the Sephardic community—a Lebanese businessman named Michel Elia.
But despite what appeared to be a happy family life, he refused to marry Lily until all legal actions against them were firmly settled. Edmond still lived in mortal fear that the Monteverde family might find some excuse to go after them, even though the actions against Lily and the Trade Development Bank had been neatly settled out-of-court in Brazil and in England.
Edmond was also mortified that Lily had caused him so much unwanted gossip. What if Bendahan decided to go to the press? Not that Bendahan would dare go public after all the legal threats Edmond had made against him. Edmond and his boys had done a good job of putting Lily’s third husband firmly in his place. But even the powerful Edmond Safra must have realized that certain types of human behavior were beyond his control, and Bendahan, whether he knew it or not, had the power to deeply embarrass the international financier and philanthropist.
But Bendahan also preferred to put the whole matter out of his life. When the appeal ended in his favor, he tried to recapture his old life in London. He returned to his “old harem,” and Shabbat dinners with his father. He bought himself a condominium in southern Spain, and he even helped his father compile an historical account of his family’s services to the Jewish communities in Morocco and England.
Following the unsuccessful appeal in July 1976, Edmond finally decided that it was the right time to marry his mistress, even though the Safra clan was still very much against the union. Now more than ever, they looked upon Lily with a great deal of distrust. How could Edmond marry such a woman who had embarrassed him with this English gigolo? Would she also drag the worthy Safra family name through the mud?
But Edmond had had enough of his family’s interference in his personal life. Although he agreed to marry Lily, he insisted that it be a low-key affair in Geneva, but he made sure that no one less than Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, then Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, presided at the traditional ceremony.
Lily, who loved ostentation, was no doubt deeply disappointed that her fourth wedding—by far her most brilliant accomplishment—had not generated more publicity. She would have loved at least one boldface mention in Women’s Wear Daily, but it was not to be. Nothing she could do or say would sway Edmond Safra, and she knew better than to press her luck on this point.
Deeply disappointed at the low-key nuptials, to which only a handful of their friends were invited, Lily made sure that the next marriage in her life would make headlines.