Moise Y. Safra, a member of a prominent Brazilian banking family who last year bought a stake in the General Motors Building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, died on Friday in São Paulo, Brazil. He was 79.
His family announced the death without giving a cause.
The Safra family’s involvement in banking began with financing trade by camel caravan in the Ottoman Empire. Jacob E. Safra, Moise’s father, started a bank named for himself in the early 1900s in Beirut. Jacob moved the family to Brazil in 1952 and founded Banco Safra in São Paulo. His sons, Edmond, Moise and Joseph, joined the enterprise, which grew to become the Safra Group, an international network consisting mostly of financial companies.
Edmond, the oldest son, died in a fire in 1999 at his Monte Carlo penthouse. (A nurse working for Mr. Safra confessed to setting the fire.) Moise, the middle son, concentrated on industrial businesses, while Joseph, the youngest, led the enterprise.
In 2006, Joseph bought out Moise’s half-ownership stake in Safra for more than $2 billion. The sale included operations in the Cayman Islands, the United States, Luxembourg, France, the Bahamas and Uruguay, in addition to those in Brazil.
Forbes this year estimated Moise Safra’s wealth at $2.2 billion, putting him at No. 835 among the world’s billionaires. It estimated Joseph’s at $16.5 billion, making him No. 52.
Moise Safra, who was born in Aleppo, Syria, on April 27, 1935, made several prominent real estate investments in recent years on his own. In 2012, he acquired a 550,000-square-foot office building in London for about $810 million. In 2013, he joined with a Chinese real estate developer, Zhang Xin, to jointly put up $700 million to buy a 40 percent stake in the 50-story G.M. Building.
Mr. Safra’s many philanthropic activities included establishing an economics professorship in his name at Harvard in 2007. In 2010 and 2011 he purchased three townhouses on the Upper East Side as a site for a community center to serve Sephardic Jews, of which he was one, and others. The center, which is scheduled to open this year, will be named for him.
Mr. Safra’s survivors include his wife, the former Chella Cohen; his sons, Jacob, Edmond and Ezra; and his daughters, Esther and Olga.