Business tycoon Sammy Ofer dies amid Iran trade scandal

Elderly Ofer Brother Group co-owner found dead in his Tel Aviv apartment; Ofer owned one of the world's largest private shipping companies, but ended his life in controversy over trade with Iran.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, REUTERS
June 3, 2011 09:41
2 minute read.
Sammy Ofer (right) with brother Yuli in 1999

ofer brothers_311 reuters. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Businessman Sammy Ofer was found dead Friday morning inside his Tel Aviv apartment. He was 89 years old.

Ofer, one of the owners and founders of the Ofer Brothers Group, a major international shipping company, was at the center of a major controversy the past few weeks since the US slapped sanctions on the company, claiming the group sold an oil tanker to Iran.

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Ofer was born in Romania in 1922, 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 private shipping companies in the world, valuing nearly $3.6 billion. Zim Integrated Shipping Services, a subsidiary of the Ofer Brothers Group, is Israel's largest holding company, and the 10th largest shipping company in the world.

According to the 2011 Forbes billionaires list, Ofer was Israel's richest man with a net worth of  $10.3 billion.

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 the Islamic Republic.

Ofer Brothers Group denied it ever sold ships to Iran.

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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 intelligence services.

A specially organized meeting at the Knesset Economics Committee over the scandal was abruptly halted live on television after 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 be 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.

His funeral will be held Sunday at the Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv, Israel Radio reported.
His family has said that the Sammy Ofer's companies would continue to operate under the guise of Ofer's children and grandchildren.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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