Safra murder shatters Monaco's reputation as super safe haven

THE reputation of the tiny state of Monaco as the most secure square mile on Earth lies in ruins this weekend.

How did two men, armed only with knives, reach the armoured apartment of the banker Edmond Safra, one of the richest men on the planet? How did they set fire to the apartment (if they did)? How did they escape without being seen by the guards at reception or by any of the 130 security cameras that spy permanently on the streets of the principality?

Monaco is reckoned to have over a thousand billionaires and millionaires in official residence. Along with entertainers such as Ringo Starr and Shirley Bassey, supermodels such as Helena Christiansen and Claudia Schiffer plus the photographer Helmut Newton, and a plethora of top- earning sportsmen and women including Martina Navratilova, Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard, the principality is also home to obscure Russians who have come by their money rapidly and less publicly.

The attraction of "The Rock" to the rich and idle - and the rich and energetic - is partly its tax-free status, but partly its reputation as a place where violent crime is virtually unknown. The murder rate in Monaco stands at roughly one per decade. There has not been an unsolved murder since the 1960s. There is one policeman for every 60 people. Local legend states that you can stroll back from the casino in furs and jewels to your unlocked car at 2am, without fear of being attacked.

No more. The strange death of Mr Safra, a Jewish-Lebanese billionaire banker, a resident of Monaco for 20 years and a personal friend of Prince Rainier, will spread fear throughout the luxurious apartments and villas of the principality. The mystery surrounding his death and that of his family nanny continues to deepen. The authorities in Monaco are expected to launch a murder investigation tomorrow, but officials said there was no clear evidence that the fire that swept through his heavily protected apartment on Friday morning was started deliberately.

The facts of the case do not easily fit the theory circulating in the financial world of a contract killing. But the other possibility - a burglary that went badly wrong - also appears far-fetched.

Mr Safra, 67, and the nanny, Viviane Torrent, a Frenchwoman in her early thirties, were suffocated by fumes after locking themselves in a bathroom to escape two hooded men armed with knives. The intruders had stabbed Mr Safra's male nurse (earlier described as a bodyguard) as he went out of the door of the apartment in the early hours.

His Brazilian-born wife, Lily, locked herself in another room and escaped unharmed. Mr Safra and Ms Torrent were found dead in the bathroom when firefighters brought the blaze under control two hours later.

Originally, sources in the investigation said that the fire appeared to have been started deliberately, outside the apartment, spreading to the roof and interior. But Francois Serdet, the chief prosecutor of Monaco, said it was not yet clear whether the fire had been lit by the intruders or began accidentally in the confusion of the raid.

"Everything turns on the evidence of one man, the nurse," said Mr Serdet (who is, like the Prime Minister and the chief of police, a Frenchman, appointed by the state of Monaco on the recommendation of the French state). The nurse, who has not yet been named, was being interviewed by police yesterday at the Princess Grace Hospital, where he was being treated for stab wounds to the thigh and lower leg.

Mr Safra, whose family built its first fortune on camel trains in Ottoman times, had created a financial empire in New York and Luxembourg in the last 30 years. The $10.3bn (pounds 6.4bn) sale of his two banks - Republic New York Corporation and Safra Republic Holdings of Luxembourg - to the London- based banking giant HSBC, is due to be completed early in the new year.

Banking industry sources have speculated on a possible "Russian connection" to his death and said Mr Safra had told friends that he knew there was a contract on his life. It was his Republic New York bank that blew the whistle last year, in a letter to the FBI, on alleged embezzlement and money-laundering of hundreds of billions of dollars of international aid to Moscow.

But if this was a professional, contract killing, why were the intruders apparently armed only with knives? Equally, if it was a petty burglary, how did they reach the split-level apartment, guarded by armoured doors, at the top of one of the most heavily protected buildings (also containing three banks) in the heart of the wealthiest part of the principality? Why did the security guards at the entrance see them neither arrive nor leave?

The alarm was given by the male nurse, who staggered down the stairs after being stabbed, to warn the guards. When firefighters and police arrived they had enormous difficulty in reaching Mr Safra and his family, partly because the apartment was ablaze, partly because the armoured doors had been closed.

Whether Mr Safra died by accident or design, however, is irrelevant to the polyglot population of Monaco, who have nothing in common beyond their wealth. If the principality were to lose its reputation as a safe haven for the rich, many of its most famous residents would have little reason to remain.

BUSINESS, PAGE 3

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice