Trade Development Bank

Trade Development Bank

Trade Development Bank was a private Geneva-based bank built by Edmond Safra (who also founded Brazil's sixth largest bank, Banco Safra) in the 1950s. Beginning with only $1 million, the bank grew into the flagship of Safra’s international banking empire with nearly $5 billion in deposits by the early 1980s. Safra sold the bank for $550 million in 1983 to American Express.

After the deal, American Express executives grew suspicious about Safra’s rumored links to the Iran-Contra operations and drug money laundering. Given their corporate responsibility for the Trade Development Bank, American Express executives hired private detectives to examine those suspicions, some of which began surfacing in the international press. When Safra learned of the American Express investigation, he ordered counter-investigations of American Express. Safra then sued American Express for defamation. At that point, American Express chose to avert a costly legal battle and limit the negative publicity by agreeing to apologize and donate $8 million to charities of Safra’s choice. [Robert Parry, "Iran-contra and the Safra Mystery", December 4, 1999]

The American Express retreat was big news at the Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers, which portrayed Safra as an innocent man smeared by a business competitor. [Bryan Burrough "Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safra", 1992] Thereafter, the image of Safra as victim became the dominant conventional wisdom among U.S. journalists.


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