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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Safra's Nurse Accused of Arson




MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- The American nurse of banker Edmond Safra, 67, will be charged with arson in the fire that killed the billionaire financier Friday, the Monaco prosecutor, Daniel Serdet, announced Monday.


An arrest warrant has been requested for Ted Maher, who was placed in custody Sunday evening, and he will be jailed on suspicion of "arson in inhabited places leading to the death of two people," Serdet said at a news conference.


"He admitted to having set fire to a wastepaper bin to set off an alarm and then to have gone downstairs to raise an alert," Serdet said.


"He did not intend to threaten Edmond Safra's life, he simply wanted to draw attention to himself to settle his differences with an employee of Mr. Safra," he said.


Serdet said Maher had been under the influence of medications and had inflicted upon himself the knife wounds originally blamed on two intruders.


Safra, founder of the Republic National Bank of New York, died from suffocation along with his nurse Viviane Torrente after the blaze engulfed his Monaco penthouse about 5 a.m. Friday.


Serdet said that Maher, the father of three children, had arrived in Monaco just six weeks ago. He apparently had worked for five months for Safra.


It was Maher who had told police early Friday that two hooded attackers armed with knives had entered Safra's apartment intending to kill the banker.


Authorities, basing their argument on Maher's testimony, initially had said two men with hoods and knives had burst in and set the fire.


But police quickly began to have doubts about that version.


Serdet said Saturday that the nurse's account could not be proved - even after a police study of video tapes from security cameras inside and outside the building.


Safra was alive when firefighters entered his burning luxury apartment, but he refused to emerge from a bathroom where he had sought refuge from knife-wielding intruders and eventually died of asphyxia, Serdet said Saturday.


In the thick smoke of the Friday morning blaze, firefighters did not initially see the door to the bathroom where Safra and the nurse were hiding, Serdet said. As they made their way through the apartment, pounding on walls, Safra's wife, Lily, begged her husband on a mobile phone to come out.


"He was worried. He did not feel secure. ... He refused to open the door," said Serdet, who added that Safra also would not open the window that might have let the smoke escape. When rescuers reached the bathroom 45 minutes later, Safra and the nurse were dead.


Serdet and other sources suggested there were significant delays and confusion after the initial calls to police from Safra's building, the Belle Epoque.


Safra was suffering from Parkinson's disease. He recently completed negotiations to sell his 29 percent share to the London-based banking firm HSBC Holdings PLC for $9.9 billion.


Safra reportedly had told acquaintances he had received threats. Much of the speculation here and in world financial centers has revolved around the possibility of a contract killing launched by Russian underworld figures angry about Safra's cooperation with U.S. investigations into Russian money-laundering, some of it possibly through banks in which Safra owned shares.


The Belle Epoque, which houses Republic National Bank of New York offices as well as those of two other banks, is highly secure. There was no forced entry to the apartment.


A source at Securite Monaco, a private firm that also worked for Safra, said Saturday that 5 a.m. was precisely the time when Safra's security detail changed shifts. Serdet said Safra had decided, in consultation with his personal security chief, Samuel Cohen, not to bother with a security guard the night of the incident.