Thousands mourn billionaire Sammy Ofer at TA funeral

Shipping magnate, 89, spent final weeks embroiled in controversy over allegedly selling tanker to Iran; Olmert, Akirov attend fumeral.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, NADAV SHEMER,
June 5, 2011 17:05
3 minute read.
Sami Ofer

sami ofer 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Thousands of mourners attended the funeral of Israeli shipping magnate Sammy Ofer, who was laid to rest at the Trumpeldor Cemetary in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

Ofer died Friday at the age of 89 following a difficult illness.  He had been the subject of scandal in recent weeks after the US accused his company of trading with Iran.

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The funeral of Israel’s richest man, with a net worth of $10.3 billion, was attended by former prime minister Ehud Olmert and real estate tycoon Alfred Akirov, Army Radio reported.

Ofer Brothers, established by Sammy and Yuli Ofer in the 1950s, and one of the world’s largest shipping companies, strongly denied any wrongdoing after the State Department alleged it had sold an oil tanker to Tehran last September, violating international sanctions.

The cause of Ofer’s death was not announced, although he had been battling a serious illness for some time, according to a statement released by the family on Friday.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences over the billionaire businessman’s passing on Friday, saying, “Ofer was a true Zionist” in everything that he did, and “never forgot his responsibility to others.”

Ofer was born in Romania immigrating with his family to Mandate Palestine two years later. He served in the Royal Navy during World War II and the Israeli Sea Corps during the War of Independence in 1948.

After finishing his army service, he became a shipping agent with Eastern Conglomerate, buying his first ship in 1950. Ofer vastly expanded his enterprise for the remainder of his life, and became the owner of one of the largest privateshipping companies in the world, valuing nearly $3.6 billion.

Zim Integrated Shipping Services, a subsidiary of the Ofer Brothers Group, is Israel’slargest holding company, and the 10th largest shipping company in the world.

In his final few weeks, however, the business tycoon was at the center of a major controversy after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Ofer Brothers Group was one of seven companies to be sanctioned over trade with Iran.

The company was accused of providing an $8.65 million tanker to Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

Ofer Brothers Group denied it ever sold ships to Iran.

The government has long urged tough action against Iran, accusing the Islamic Republic of working to build a nuclear bomb. But authorities reacted cautiously to the US move, fuelling speculation about possible links between the brothers and Israel’s intelligence services.

A specially organized meeting at the Knesset Economics Committee over the scandal was abruptly halted live on television after committee chair MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) received a mysterious note, the contents of which have yet to be divulged.

“Let’s just be clear the note is not from a political figure and not from a business figure,” Shama-Hacohen said, leaving open the possibility of an appeal by the defense establishment.

Outside his career in the shipping industry, Ofer is said to have been one of the world’s top art collectors, with a penchant for works by impressionist masters. He was reported to have paid $40.3 million for a painting by Vincent van Gogh that went to auction in 2006.

Ofer is survived by his wife and two sons, Idan and Eyal, seven grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

His family has said that Sammy Ofer’s companies would continue to operate under the guidance of his children and grandchildren.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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